Phony War in France

Discussions on all aspects of France during the Inter-War era and Second World War.
norman_mcgarry
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Phony War in France

Post by norman_mcgarry » 16 Mar 2010 15:04

I have heard that, after the Soviet Union attacked Poland in 1939, France made plans to attack the Soviets during the period of 1939-40 known as the Phony War. I am somewhat a student of this period but only recently came across this fact. Could someone lead me in the right direction to find out more about these plans?

Also, is this one of these facts that are seemingly buried for political reasons?

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 19 Mar 2010 14:17

Not 'buried'. But it is easy to miss. Generally only discussed in the serious or comprehensive books. Churchill mentions it in his history of the war, historians or writers like Horne & Chapman refer to it briefly when discussing the politics of the phoney war period. All it ammounted to were discussions by the senior French and British leaders and directives to their military chiefs to prepare some plans. There were a enourmous number of logistics and transportation probems the Brit and French had trouble with so the plans went nowhere. As the winter progressed the Allied leaders gradually realized the 'Alliance' between the USSR and Germany was not all the Axis propaganda claimed, and they decided to postphone any direct action.

It does ammount to a low point in British/French politcal calculation or policy towards the USSR. Deriving from their diplomatic failure to daw the USSR into a alliance with them. It was a relatively minor compared to the other mistakes made during the Phoney War & is a something of a pointless curiosity.

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The_Enigma
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Re: Phony War in France

Post by The_Enigma » 19 Mar 2010 14:32

From what i read a few years ago in the 'Fall of France' by Julian Jackson, iirc the French had been trying to form grand alliances since the end of the First World War and had attempted such towards the Soviets ... it wasnt a last minute thing.

But at any rate am pretty sure that the British plan to bomb the Baku oil fields if the Germans were going to capture them dated back to the idea of a joint Anglo-French strike agaisnt the fields due to the USSR's pact with the Germans.

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Gooner1 » 19 Mar 2010 15:18

I couldn't say if the facts have been buried ... just that it seems scarcely believable that the Prime Minister of France actually thought that declaring war on the Soviet Union was the best way to beat Germany.

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 20 Mar 2010 14:51

Gooner1 wrote:I couldn't say if the facts have been buried ... just that it seems scarcely believable that the Prime Minister of France actually thought that declaring war on the Soviet Union was the best way to beat Germany.


Anyone who wants to really understand this oddity needs to find a detailed treatment of the subject. A quick look at Jackson leaves me more than a few questions about the French thinking. In the case of the Brits. the anti Communist attitudes of Chamberlain and his cabinet suggests some of the motivation.

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David Lehmann
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Re: Phony War in France

Post by David Lehmann » 20 Mar 2010 16:35

Hello,

Between 1920 and 1927, France made military agreements with Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia but in 1938 the situation had considerably evolved and only Poland appears then as the last possible ally (others are neutral, too weak etc.).

During this period, French politicians are also trying very slowly to cooperate with the Soviets in the simple aim to isolate Germany but the German-Soviet agreement stops this option. In 1938, the French Army on its side doesn't see a possible alliance with the Soviets at all. In 1939 after the fall of Poland, France seems finally to be alone on the continent to face Germany, with growing military support from Great Britain.

There were indeed plans to send an allied expeditionary force in Finland against the Soviets. These forces were finally directed to Norway in April 1940 with British, French and Polish soldiers.
In January 1940, with preparation up to May 1940 (and a possible action planned in July 1940), there are joint French-British plans to bomb the Soviet oil facilities at Bakou (British target), Batoum (French target) and Grozny (French target). Attacks would have been launched from bases in the Middle-East, using terrain in Irak, Iran, Turkey possibly etc. It posed many political, logistical and technical/operational issues but there were real preparation to achieve such bombings.
That's among other plans that never happened like sending French airborne troops in The Netherlands to join the French sea landing in the Walcheren islands. We could than have had French and German paratroopers fighting.

Regards,

David

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 20 Mar 2010 18:23

David Lehmann wrote:That's among other plans that never happened like sending French airborne troops in The Netherlands to join the French sea landing in the Walcheren islands. We could than have had French and German paratroopers fighting.

Regards,

David


What French "airbourne troops" were avaialble? I have read a brief description of a small special actions type unit. Was there a larger airbourne unit?

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David Lehmann
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Re: Phony War in France

Post by David Lehmann » 20 Mar 2010 18:43

Hi,

Potentially there were two "Groupes de l'Infanterie de l'Air" (GIA) formed (601st in Reims and 602nd in Baraki in Algeria).

Each group is composed of :
• one HQ
• one transport aircraft squadron
• one airborne infantry company (= CIA = Compagnie d'Infanterie de l'Air) : 175 men organized in 3 platoons + 1 support platoon (with 2 37mm TR infantry guns and 2 Hotchkiss Mle1914 HMGs).

So nothing comparable in strength and manpower to the German counterpart.
The action was initially planned with GIA 601 to support the French troops landing from the sea (which did happen).
During the Phoney War they were used as "groupes francs".

Regards,

David

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by phylo_roadking » 20 Mar 2010 21:42

In the case of the Brits. the anti Communist attitudes of Chamberlain and his cabinet suggests some of the motivation.


Carl - remember it was a National Government, there was quite a number of socialist "Labour Party" MPs in that Cabinet! :wink:

There were indeed plans to send an allied expeditionary force in Finland against the Soviets. These forces were finally directed to Norway in April 1940 with British, French and Polish soldiers.
In January 1940, with preparation up to May 1940 (and a possible action planned in July 1940), there are joint French-British plans to bomb the Soviet oil facilities at Bakou (British target), Batoum (French target) and Grozny (French target). Attacks would have been launched from bases in the Middle-East, using terrain in Irak, Iran, Turkey possibly etc. It posed many political, logistical and technical/operational issues but there were real preparation to achieve such bombings.


if you see the relevant chapter in Kersaudy's "Norway 1940" the wish to come to grips with the USSR as an "ally" of Germany was certainly behind the element of planning for Norway that saw a further advance into Northern Sweden and at the USSR by getting military "aid" DIRECT to the Finns :wink: In the event, this was precluded by the end of the Winter War...though limited "proper" aid (not with accompanying thousands of soldiers I mean!) was sent to Finland during the war.
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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Peter K » 17 Apr 2010 13:30

Is there any data on losses of both sides during the Phony War - especially on German losses in September 1939 in the West, with breakdown on losses of Heer, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. And then also losses in October if available.

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by MLW » 18 Apr 2010 12:04

Technically speaking the Phoney War did not begin until after French forces withdrew from the Saarland on 24 October. I have studied the period using original German records, but have not found a comprehensive casualty list for any specific period from 01 Sep 39 to 09 May 40. I do know that the French forces that invaded Germany reported 77 casualties - very light considering 10 divisions were in the country for more than 30 days.

Cheers, Marc

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Peter K » 18 Apr 2010 13:33

I do know that the French forces that invaded Germany reported 77 casualties - very light considering 10 divisions were in the country for more than 30 days.


What is the source of this number?

I have studied the period using original German records, but have not found a comprehensive casualty list for any specific period from 01 Sep 39 to 09 May 40.


Such a casualty list has been posted in this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=76&t=140220&p=1455950#p1455950

But there were also casualties during the Phoney War. Until the end of 1939 they were (according to Hahn):

585 Tote
137 Vermisste
1347 Verwundete

This includes casualties of Luftwaffe + Kriegsmarine + Heer. Do you know how many of them were Heer casualties?


More complete figures for losses on the Western front theatre in the period 1 September 1939 to 9 May 1940 are:

Heer:
dead: 1139
wounded: 2550
missing: 293
sum: 3982

Kriegsmarine:
dead: 1612
wounded: 431
missing: 2374, including PoW: 360, Interned: 1097 (probably the Crew of Admiral Graf Spee), probably lost in the water: 917)
sum: 4417

Luftwaffe:
dead: 847
wounded: 353
missing: 363
sum: 1563

source is DRZW, Vol. 2, p. 307, referencing a WFSt report of 9 September 1940.


And I suppose that Hahn's data for 1939 (585 Tote / 137 Vermisste) includes zero (0) or at least very small numbers of Kriegsmarine casualties.

Because I guess that Kriegsmarine was not suffering casualties during the "Phoney War" or "West 1939" but during the battle of Atlantic / North Sea, which was probably counted separately. What do you think about that?

Hahn does not write either these numbers include casualties of Kriegsmarine in Atlantic / North Sea or not.

He only writes (on page 197):

"Personelle Ausfalle sind naturlich auch im Westen entstanden, einschliesslich der Verluste ohne Feindeinwirkung waren es bis zum 31. Dezember 1939" - and he provides figures given above.

If it comes to Heer and Luftwaffe casualties:

missing: 293


missing: 363


Do you know if and how many of them were PoWs?


But this refers to casualties in the West during the entire period 03.09.1939 - 09.05.1940.

And I'm searching for casualty figures in the West for September of 1939 only.

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by David Lehmann » 18 Apr 2010 19:17

Hello,

I cannot offer a comprehensive answer but I wonder where this 77 casualties is originating from. During the Saar action the 21e DI alone suffered 329 losses IIRC, but of course this does not tell the number of KIA.

I found once in François Cochet's "Les soldats de la Drôle de Guerre" (2004) that in September and October 1939, the French losses were:
• 1,136 soldiers KIA
• 256 sailors KIA
• 42 airmen KIA
• 370 POW

According to the same book, the air losses (excluding accidents) from September to October 1939 were: 48 German, 37 British and 40 French planes shot down. In total, between September 1939 and April 1940, 176 German aircrafts were lost for 82 British and 57 French ones (= 139 allied aircrafts).
For September alone we would have 24 German, 27 British and 30 French losses.

Concerning naval losses, I have probably only part of them before May with:
- Example of German losses:
• German freighter "Chemnitz": captured by the submarine "Poncelet" on September 28, 1939
• German submarine U-49: heavily damaged by torpedo boat "Siroco" on November 20, 1939
• German merchantmen "Halle" (scuttled) and "Santa Fe" (captured): found by a joint Franco-British group including "Dupleix" cruiser, counter-torpedo boat "Le Terrible" and counter-torpedo boat "Le Fantasque" on November 25, 1939
• German freighter "Trifels": captured by French auxiliary cruiser "Koutoubia" in November 1939.
- Example of French losses:
• Tanker "Rhône": sunk by U-47 at Cap Juby (December 19, 1939)
• Light cruiser "Emile Bertin": damaged by the Luftwaffe in Namsos (April 19, 1940)
• Trawler "La Cancalaise": sunk by a mine (1st of May 1940)
• Destroyer "Bison": sunk by the Luftwaffe in Namsos (May 3, 1940)

Regards,

David

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Re: Phony War in France

Post by Peter K » 02 May 2010 23:49

Thanks David for the info on French losses.

I finally managed to find info on losses of German ground forces (Heer) in the West during that period:

KIA / MIA / WIA:

1 IX - 24 IX 1939: 169 / 57 / 219; including:

5. Army - 12 / 1 / 6
1. Army - 140 / 56 / 202
7. Army - 17 / 0 / 11

1 IX - 10 X 1939: 268 / 113 / 551; including:

5. Army - 39 / 9 / 50
1. Army - 197 / 105 / 488
7. Army - 32 / 0 / 13

1 IX - 20 X 1939: 356 / 128 / 836

1 IX - 20 XI 1939: 490 / 162 / 1201

-------------------------------------------

So losses from 1 (or rather 3) IX 1939 to 31 X 1939 can be estimated as ca. 400 KIA / 140 MIA / 960 WIA

-------------------------------------------

1 IX - 30 XI 1939: 520 / 165 / 1231

1 IX - 31 XII 1939: 585 / 173 / 1347

1 IX 1939 - 31 I 1940: 640 / 180 / 1411

1 IX 1939 - 29 II 1940: 719 / 196 / 1548

1 IX 1939 - 31 III 1940: 828 / 226 / 1783

1 IX 1939 - 30 IV 1940: 1109 / 287 / 2468

1 IX 1939 - 9 V 1940: 1139 / 293 / 2550

--------------------------

Additionally Waffen SS lost 1 KIA and 2 killed in accidents (= 3 dead) in the West from 1 IX 1939 to 9 V 1940.

==========================

I have also such info:

German losses during the three-days long battle of Brenschelbach (10.09.1939 - 12.09.1939):

60 killed, 11 missing, 157 (?) wounded

So it seems that the battle of Brenschelbach was the bloodiest battle for the Germans in the West in 1939.

==========================

And also:

Casualties of French 21. Infantry Division in period 08.09.1939 - 15.09.1939:

KIA & MIA - 80 (4 officers); WIA - 249 (8 officers)

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