How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Discussions on all aspects of France during the Inter-War era and Second World War.
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Andy H
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Post by Andy H » 23 Nov 2003 21:23

1)

The Maginot line could have been extended to the Channel. This would have given the French time to identify the main German thrust given what resources would have been needed to breech it.

2)

Earlier mobilisation.

3)

Belgiums belief that it's neutrality would protect it, caused the delay in the Allied forces in deploying.

4)

Britain committed fewer troops that WW1 and what was promised in September 1939

5)

The absence of the USA

6)

The lack of understanding by the French high command on the part played by Airpower

7)

Sending the main reserve force (7th Army) north towards Holland rather than sending it to the main German breakthrough

8)

The waste of some 400,000 troops sitting in the Maginot line

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LegalAssassin
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Post by LegalAssassin » 23 Nov 2003 23:04

I belive the easiest way would have been losing WW1, but that might be cheating... :P

The generals was the biggest problem, I belive. Their way of looking at war was the same as it was in WW1, their experience of tanks in other positions than support was very limited.

Making sure all of the border was equally protected with mobile troops behind them (to be put in at the location of an attack) is also one.

Not assume some parts of the border wasn't penetratable, thus putting less troops there, is another.

Ally with Hitler is another suggestion, but I don't belive it's feasable either.

Shouldn't this thread be in "What if"?

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Post by solja » 25 Nov 2003 02:31

I believe that staying static an not counter the german thrusts, this allowed the german forces to surround the pockets of resistence an destory them.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by SASH155 » 27 Jan 2010 02:59

Many here have already touched upon the lack of flexibility in the French army's, and for that matter the BEF's, overall strategy to face the Germans. This was one of the many faults which burdened the allied armies at the time. France was weighed down with a two-nay even three-tier army as regards its fighting capability vis à vis the Germans. There were truly excellent, well trained, motivated and equipped "A" level units which proved their ability to cause the Germans fits; these included such units as Blanchard's 1ère Armée, Giraud's 7ème Armée, the 1ère DCR, the DLMs etc...; however, many of France's infantry units were of variable quality "B" and "C" echelon reservists with minimal training and indifferent leadership. There were so many problems which were only starting or in the process of being addressed at the time Germany attacked the West on May 10th. Here is a list of problems (and some solutions), and in no particular order, that may have changed the outcome; many things listed below were already in the pipeline at the time of the German attack:

1. French army needed far more motivated, professional NCOs to train and lead small units at the squad and company level. Officers needed to be put through rigorous refresher training, thoroughly introduced to the new paradigm of combined arms armored warfare, with medium tanks like the Somua S-35 playing a leading role. Officers needed to lead their men by example; the social barriers between them and their men needed to be broken down, with traditional special privileges for officers vis à vis their men put into abatement.

2. The army as a whole needed to place more emphasis on small unit tactics, fire and manoeuvre, marksmanship, gunnery, physical training, and unit morale building.

3. There needed to be more realistic large unit (at the battalion level and above) exercises during the period from early 1935 on, as soon as it was clear that Germany was openly re-arming, and this in conjunction with close support units of the Armée de l'Air; these latter formations needed to have more dedicated ground attack aircraft such as the superlative Breguet Bre. 693. Concentration to be made on rigorous exercises involving combined arms, ie. more emphasis on use of armor divisions as self contained all arms units.

4. More radio equipment and training in its use at every level of the army. Radios in all armored fighting vehicles, and all radios to be capable of two-way function, which was not the case in many instances. Portable two way radios in all infantry squads in order to communicate with higher formations.

5. Introduction of two or three man turrets on all medium and heavy tanks so as to improve rate of fire and fire control. Introduction of two man turret from the ARL-35 light tank armed with the 47mm SA-35 gun onto most of France's heterogeneous collection of light tanks; rationalization of light tank production to concentrate on the Hotchkiss H-39, but equipped with the earlier mentioned turret.

6. Crash program to introduce at least two to three 7.5mm MAS-40 semi-auto rifles into every infantry squad by no later than the early spring of 1940; the rest of the infantry to turn in their motley collection of 8mm mle. 1886/93 Lebels, mle. 1907/1915 and mle. 1916 Mannlicher-Berthiers for new 7.5mm MAS-36 bolt rifles; some units would retain the handy and popular Mannlicher-Berthier Mousqueton mle. 1916, but also more MAS-38, and at times, Thompson SMGs should have also been issued to the squads.

7. A second 7.5mm FM-24/29 to be issued at squad level to counter the quantity of automatic weapons in their German counter-parts. New heavy machinegun to be produced (the 9mm MAC-38?). Development of a new belt fed general purpose MG, possibly based on the 7.5mm Reibel MAC-31 armor and fortress MG, or on the belt fed version of the MAC-34 aircraft gun. Introduction of vehicle towed Brandt 120mm heavy mortar into infantry unit heavy weapons companies.

8. All artillery units to be motorized by 1938-1939; most guns, especially divisional weapons like the 75mm mle. 1897 and 155mm C17S field howitzer to be high speeded with new axles and pneumatic tires. Replace most of the the 75mm mle. 1897 guns one for one with new 105mm mle. 1934S or mle. 1935B field howitzers. All GPF 155mm guns to be converted to the GPFT (Touzard) configuration; more Schneider 105mm mle. 1936 field gun batteries. The armored divisions to have at least one organic battery of SAU-40 SP 75mm guns. More heavy counter battery units equipped with the brand new Schneider Matériel de 155mm long mle. 1932. More artillery tractors such as the Latil TARH and Laffly S-35TL, Somua MCG/MCL series etc... All armor units to have not just organic towed 75mm field gun and/or 105mm field howitzer batteries, but also each DLM and DCR to have at least two organic motorized batteries of 155mm C17S field howitzers, and one organic battery of 105mm Schneider L13S or mle. 1936L field guns.

9. The Somua S-35 (S-40 etc...) series of medium tanks to become the standard tank across the armored units, provided they have new two (or better yet, three man) turrets fitted with proper radio equipment; the B-1bis/ter heavy tank battalions to be attached to new dedicated armored divisions in separate organic heavy tank companies.

9. More infantry units to be fully motorized. Infantry battalions attached to the armored divisions (Dragons Portés) to have a purpose built APC, likely based on the Lorraine Chenillette mle. 1937.

10. More modern AA guns at every field level unit, especially more 20mm Oerlikon guns, 25mm mle. 1939 Hotchkiss LAAGs and 40mm Bofors guns (with a production line set up at MAS, MAT, ATS, Bourges???). More 75mm Schneider mle. 1936 and 90mm mle. 1939 AA guns with the DAT. Use 75mm and 90mm AA guns as dual purpose weapons. In the armored and motorized divisions issue twin 13.2mm Hotchkiss HMGs mounted on vehicles such as Laffly S-20 6x6 carriers, Citroën-Kegresse semi-track tractors etc... in order to provide more effective close in air defense. A corrolary to this would be the introduction of the new 75mm AT gun into specialized AT units, and the issue of the excellent 47mm SA-37 and the new 47mm SA-39 AT guns down to infantry units in order to replace the less powerful 25mm AT guns. More TDs mounting the 47mm SA-37 such as the Laffly S-15. Close support aircraft to be used in dedicated AT role, using 20mm cannon and armor piercing bombs. Press older fighters such as the Morane MS. 406 into ground attack role.

11. The full mobilization of France's industries well before 1938 in order to get as much of the new equipment into service as soon as possible. France needed to develop production capacity in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia for as many items as possible, such as ammunition, certain weapon's components, vehicle spare parts, tires etc... Redundant production centers needed to be set up by major northern region/Paris region producers such as Renault, Citroën, Panhard, SOMUA, APX etc... in the south and southwest of France in towns such as Bordeaux, Marseille, Toulouse, Nice, Valence, Clermont Ferrand, Limoges etc... in order to insure against the total loss of production if north lost to an invasion. Build production facilities in the Alps, Pyrenées, Massif Central and Auvergne hidden deep in tunnels and caves in the sides of mountains. Industrial center of France moved for the duration to Lyon/Roanne/St. Etienne area.

12. The high command shaken up, replacing older, tired men such as Gamelin, Georges, Billotte and Huntziger with up and coming stars such as de Lattre, Juin, de Gaulle, Le Clerc et al. Shake up of Deuxième Bureau, while at same time taking seriously reports from same and Armée de l'Air recon. that the Germans were massing in the Eifel region of Germany and were likely to strike through the Ardennes. More radio and sig. int., infiltration of double agents into Germany. Aggressive special unit (the Corps Francs) raiding into Germany to take prisoners for interrogation. Further Development of Armée de l'Air airborne forces into crack path-finder and "kick in the door" assault/shock units.

13. Accelerated production of the newest aircraft, possibly involving the de-nationalization of the industry; nationalization caused much disruption in 1936. Concentration on getting more Dewoitine D-520 fighters into the fighter units along the eastern and northern frontiers; ramp up Bloch 152 and 155 production; import more Hawk 75s from Curtiss in U.S. More aggressive aerial recon w/ fighter escort of Germany and frontier areas such as Ardennes/Eifel massif. Accelerated strategic bombing campaign of Germany in conjunction with RAF Bomber Command using the new Lioré et Olivier LéO 451 medium bombers etc... Emphasis on air superiority, sweeping Luftwaffe from the skies with help of RAF Fighter Command and Belgian air force.

14. Assuming most parameters were met above, all out invasion of Germany by a large combined allied mechanized force as early as mid-September of 1939 with new combined arms armored forces. This would need the full cooperation of a fully re-vamped Belgian army. Ideally this should have been done at time of German re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, and at latest at the time of the seizure of the Sudetenland in September 1938, with the help of Belgium and Great Britain, as well as a coordinated thrust from Czechoslovakia, and this while Germany was significantly weaker than it would be in 1939-1940. In addition, Britain and U.S. should have been more supportive of France's security and economic concerns during inter-war period, and less concerned with doing business with German companies. Britain's PM Baldwin should not have made his naval deal with Hitler in 1935.

15. Govt. of National Unity for the duration led by men such as Reynaud and de Gaulle; dismissal of defeatist ministers such as Laval; leave officers like Pétain and Weygand in retirement (this would assume that their attitude toward's France's war effort was clearly understood well ahead of time).

16. Aggressive submarine warfare against German merchant fleet and the Kriegsmarine in Baltic and North Sea. Aggressive action by major Franco-British surface units and naval aviation against German surface fleet. Blockade of all German ports.

17. Enlist U.S. in supplying ammunition, food, weapons, machine tools etc... possibly later troops and air units.

All this mentioned above would have required a deep critical self assessment of the French army's weaknesses during the inter-war period and a stronger government, as well as a head start as early as 1934 or 1935 in ramping up design and production of new weapons and equipment. It would also have required greater strategic planning and cooperation between the general staffs and governments of Great Britain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands with France. France's efforts to contain Germany during the inter-war period deserved more support from her traditional allies than she got, especially from the U.S. and Great Britain. It would have also required a better understanding of the true nature and evil of Naziism, and a determination to fight it to the bitter end, and also would have required less of an obsession on the French right with Stalin and the Soviet Union, an obsession which became a distraction to the real threat facing the West. Given enough time and preparation, France and her allies might have defeated Germany in the spring and summer of 1940, or even taken the fight right into Germany in the fall of 1939 while the Germans were still preoccupied with invading Poland. Short of this, she would have needed to stop the Germans before they crossed the Meuse near Sedan, hold them in place, and then mount a massive counter attack to encircle and destroy the German Panzer divisions while pushing into Germany.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Tim Smith » 28 Jan 2010 14:46

I think France might have avoided defeat if Britain and France had not made a deal with Hitler over Czechoslovakia, let Hitler invade Czechoslovakia on 1 October 1938, and then declared war on Germany.

IMO, Germany would have defeated Czechoslovakia in two months, but suffered heavy losses in the process, the Germans having to fight their way through the mountain defences. Plus most of the Czech tanks would have been destroyed instead of being taken over by the Wehrmacht. Britain and France would have stayed on the defensive and done nothing. But then Germany would have to invade France to win the war.

Now, the German Army was much less prepared for the conquest of France in May 1939 than it was in May 1940. The Panzer divisions were much weaker in early 1939, and would be weaker still without the Czech tanks. Germany would have only 6 Panzer divisions instead of 10, and the fighting capability of those 6 Panzer Divisions would be lower because at least 90% of all German tanks would be the little Panzer I's and Panzer II's. So overall the Panzer Divisions would be only half as effective in May 1939 as they were in May 1940.

The Luftwaffe would still be much stronger and more modern than the French Air Force and RAF, and would win air superiority, but the German Army would actually be weaker than the French Army. Also, in 1939, Germany might not have chosen the historical Ardennes strategy, but gone for a repeat of the 1914 plan. In a May 1939 invasion of France, a German victory would no longer be a near-certainty - a lot would depend on the French panicking over air attacks, the key morale factor in Blitzkrieg. If French morale holds, France has at least an even chance of victory, and perhaps better than even if Germany adopts the wrong strategy.

IMO, France might have survived if she (and Britain) had gone to war a year earlier.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by phylo_roadking » 29 Jan 2010 03:31

I think France might have avoided defeat if Britain and France had not made a deal with Hitler over Czechoslovakia, let Hitler invade Czechoslovakia on 1 October 1938, and then declared war on Germany.
In 1938 - the Lufwaffe's perceived strength was both greater than you might think...while the Allies' weaknesses were even greater than mere numbers would indicate...
Ultimately it was the Luftwaffe's percieved ability to do "stupendous things" which provided the most decisive victory of the "Flower Wars", although the roots stretched back to the aftermath of the Anschluss Crisis. In late March the british and French governments independently asked their highly experienced Chiefs of Air Staff, Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir Cyril Newall and General Joseph Vuillemin, to asses their respective services' capabilities. The shocking response from both was that their bombers were inapable of effective offensive operations and would be rapidly desroyed by enemy defences; indeed, Vuillemin estimated that they would be wiped out within a fortnight. By mid-September 1938 the British and French had some 700 bombers but the only modern ones were 385 Battles, Blenheims and Whitleys. Ludlow-Hewitt in October 1937 had recognised that his bombers, such as single-engined Wellesleys and twin-engined Harrows, were no match for the Bf109 and his Annual Report of 10 March 1938 stated that "our Bomber Force is, judged from a war standard, practically useless". Six months later he had only 200 fully operational pilots, a serviceability rate of 50% amd a 33% reserve.
Newall and Vuillemin assessed the Luftwaffe's strength at between 2,300 and 3,00 (on 1 August it was 2,928 including 81 transports) aided by accurate estimates of its order of battle, but there were Jeremiahs aplenty to provide more alarming figures. The most influential was the world famous aviator Lindbergh, who lived in Europe after the kidnap and murder of his son. His estimate of 8,000 aircraft followed visits to Luftwaffe bases and factories but, as the British Air Attache in berlin Group Captain J.L. Vachell recognised, he was repeating deliberately the exaggerated reports of the U.S. Military Attache, Major Truman Smith, who hoped to stimulate American air rearmament. Lindbergh's was not the only influential voice, and the Foreign Office received a report from Sir Frederick Sykes, the RAF's second Chief of Staff, confidently asserting the Luftwaffe had 12,000 aircraft!
The Allies were conscious that the Czechs would be unable to pin down Luftwaffe strength for long; although Prague had an air force of 54 squadrons, virtually all its 800 first-line fighter aircraft were obsolete. Modern designs, including the Avia B135 fighter and Aero A300/304 bomber, were being developed, but as a stopgap 60 SBs were purchased from the Soviet Union and flown from the Ukraine pending delivery of the license-built aircraft during the sumer of 1938 as the Avia B71
These reasons helped force defensive strategies upon the British and French airmen, but financial and industrial factors also contributed. The British did not wish rearmament to cripple their economy and decided that strategic defence was cheaper and more cost-effective than strengthening Bomber Command. The decision was made despite strenuous objections from the Air Staff in October 1937 by the Defence Co-ordinator, Sir Thomas Inskip, after exercises had shown the effectiveness of radar-based air defence. The French went on the defensive after Vuillemin's pessimistic report to the Comite Permanent de la Defense nationale on 15 March and after learning four months earlier that domestic monthly production was only 60 aircraft, less than 30% of the British figure. Deliveries of combat aircraft to the Armee De L'Air per quarter in 1939 ranged from 61 to 126 (2- to 42 per month) due to the reorgnanisation of industry, a lack of investment and a small workforce (35,000 in 1938, rising to 171,000 in 1940).
With their main offensive and defensive arms UNTIL their WWI-sized armies could be raised and trained (in 1939 that was still reckoned to take TWO years! 8O ) being their Air Forces...and with said airforces being in THAT atrocious state...the British and French weren't declaring war on ANYONE in 1938! :o

(The above from E.R. Hooton Phoenix Triumphant)

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by SASH155 » 29 Jan 2010 06:46

In my breakdown of what needed to happen in France it must be borne in mind that these would have been ideal conditions, assuming the political will had been present during the mid-1930s amongst the allies to face off against Hitler, and this much, much earlier than was the actual case; unfortunately this was not the case until far too late. I might have added in my list that the French high command needed to scrap the dual prevailing doctrines from the 1918-1940 period of the "continuous front" and the "methodical battle", methodologies which were holdovers from 1918, and entirely at odds with taking the initiative against the German buildup. But then, this is all most French commanders of the inter-war period were familiar with; they were essentially planning to finally carry out the long delayed 1919 offensive. Invading Germany prior to March 1939, when the rest of Czechoslovakia was subsumed, was probably the only way to nip the incipient threat in the bud. The whole period is filled with missed opportunities. It still bothers me that a country I love, and one as great and proud as France could have been overrun within six weeks (May 10th to June 22cd, 1940); the Frenchmen who stood their ground and fought valiantly against hopeless odds need to be honored. Many German units reported fierce resistance wherever they went, and many French units seem to have held out as long as they could given their being cut off and encircled. A few incidents in 1940 could have changed the entire course of the campaign, especially had French communications been better, if orders had gotten to where they were needed in time, had the French reacted faster.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Tim Smith » 29 Jan 2010 10:39

phylo_roadking wrote: In 1938 - the Lufwaffe's perceived strength was both greater than you might think...while the Allies' weaknesses were even greater than mere numbers would indicate...
What's your opinion on my comments about the weaker Panzerwaffe?

Also the Allies would have 6-7 months after the outbreak of war to frantically build up their forces, just as they did historically, since Germany would be in no shape to invade France in winter 1938/39 - her army would be weakened from the conquest of Czechoslovakia, and the Luftwaffe is a lot less effective in mid-winter, it can't support the Panzers if the weather is too bad.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by takata_1940 » 29 Jan 2010 15:29

HI everybody,

While, overall, I'm not in full disagreement with SASH155 analysis of the French weaknesses (in his seventeen points), I do not agree with most of those detailed points he is making for different reasons. Discussing each of them in details would make a complete book that I'm not ready to publish yet...
:-)

In short, the main failures of the French were:

a) an inadequate direction of the rearmament program due to an inadequate sharing of the responsabilities between the political, industrial and military spheres (intellectual failures).
b) an inadequate industrial basis hampered by the above (technical failures).
c) an inadequate use of all the ressources available, in manpower, technology and money, of course, due also to the above (consequences).

This caused a lot of wastage (money, ressources, good will, etc.) but above all, a huge waste of time, which was the most critical factor considering the French situation (in retrospect). Contrary to what people think, rearmament started in France very early, around 1932 for the Airforce, in the mid-twenties for the Navy, and was never really stopped for the Army which was aimed at reaching a very good motorization level. Then why so few results at the end, compared to the German?

During the interwar, the French economy was crippled by the extent of the physical damages, sustained during the fightings which took place mostly on French and Belgian soils. But, in the meantime, the German economy, fully intact, recieved a lot of fundings from the USA and Britain. It is calculated that, for each dollar the USA invested in Germany, only 20 cents were paid back by the repayments of the Allied war debts.

As a matter of fact, the German industry was trully modern at the time of the financial crisis, when the French one was fairly obsolete. The average age of the machine tools park was about 5-10 years old in Germany vs 25-30 years in France. The reconstruction effort drained a lot of money (and imports) in France while the Industry had lost a lot of export markets during the war. It was followed by a serious desinvestment in all the major industrial sectors and the tooling could not be updated, which made the recovery even harder, but accentuated the loss of exports (then serious financial problems to pay the huge bill).

So, it would take one a lot of time to enter the details but the many points raised by SASH155 are linked with the situation described above. For example, the Armament Ministry (Raoul Dautry) was implemented only at the war start, not because nobody felt the necessity to do it long before, but because nobody could agree how to do it (same for the whole organization of the Armed Nation, the Defence Ministry, the Air Ministry, etc.). The long story of the French rearmament is mostly a story of hard struggle between several pression groups, each with a very different way of conducting the whole business, and each ready to hamper the people in charge if it was not implemented their own way.

Another example is the nationalizations of 1936. Most analysts are stating that it was a mistake and that it disorganized the French production and that it was mostly decided on the political ground (right vs left). This is certainly comming from Vichy's propaganda. As a matter of fact, without the 1936 nationalizations, no Morane 406, Dewoitine 520, LeO 451, Bréguet 693, Bloch 152, Bloch 174, would ever be flying in May 1940 or would be in very very short supply. It was obviously necessary considering the state of the aircraft industry which was unable to produce in any number some aircraft, of barely WW I technology, during the 1932-1935 period.

i.e. Morane S.A was a small workshop with a maximum capacity of 5-10 aircraft per month after working more than 3 years on this program. It would have taken them at least 10 years to produce 1,000 Morane 406 and they were not ready to do anything about the huge investment necessary to do better than that. The nationalization program, despite many shortcommings, permitted to produce the bulk of 900 aircraft in less than 9 months by pooling many companies, retooling them, hiring people in order to skip the technological gap between the old way and the modern way of making aircraft. This program was implemented fairly too late, once it was proved during the 1932-1935 period that the industry would not co-operate and do the obvious changes by itself.

This was the same story in all other war industries but it was less accute than for the aircraft production because government's arsenals existed for the Army and Navy, beside the private sector.

As a conclusion, the problem was mostly intellectual and technical. Everybody, considering this period of French history, would mention overall as a factor the seriousness of "social struggles" in France. Indeed, this was real but secondary to the main problem. Its main impact was indirect as it divided the high ranking servants on ideological grounds during the 1920-1939 period. Because of it, some actions which could have changed the managment deadlock were not taken until far too late (if taken at some point). But then, France was a democracy deprived of Hitler's means to dictate his program and force his people to follow it. On this point, she was not very different from Britain or the U.S.A. where mostly the same problems with their rearmament programs arised. She was just more exposed and had to pay the full price for it.

S~
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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by phylo_roadking » 29 Jan 2010 21:12

What's your opinion on my comments about the weaker Panzerwaffe?
Tim, as you can see from Olivier's comments, France was equally weak - but in a different way. In 1937/9 it had numbers....but a lot of types were obsolete and the various repalcement programmes were slow. Take a look at the "Tanks!" site for all the prototypes and penny-packet-sized batches the French went through. Even OTL the French had the numbers in 1940 - just mismanaged their armour badly; dashing lots of it north into the Belgian National Redoubt for a start!...in the path of the breakthrough at Sedan committing it almost on a unit-by-unit basis...commanders who wouldn't let tanks with a known "thirst" fuel-up or even WAIT for their bowsers before sending them into combat - after a long drive to contact! 8O Doesn't really matter if it's 1938 or 1940 for problems like THAT! Meanwhile - I assume Olivier knows far more, but the mechanisation of the Light Cavalry divisions was barely started.
- her army would be weakened from the conquest of Czechoslovakia,
Czechoslovakia wasn't going to be THAT hard to overrun; as you can see it's air force was pretty hopeless....and once it's fixed border defences punctured, they were inherently weak behind them - and look how the Germans sorted BELGIAN border defences, and Rommel pushed through the Maginot Line Extension south-west of Sedan! NONE of those vaunted border defences proved as strong as anyone thought in the first years of the war...
Also the Allies would have 6-7 months after the outbreak of war to frantically build up their forces, just as they did historically,
...and STILL reckoned it would take TWO YEARS to build up their forces to the point that they could contemplate an offensive in the West. Remember - 1938 caused the expansion of the Territorials in the UK...a war over Czechoslovakia would begin WITHOUT that relatively-quickly mobilised reserve in the UK. We had the BEF as we know it BECAUSE of Munich...
since Germany would be in no shape to invade France in winter 1938/39 and the Luftwaffe is a lot less effective in mid-winter, it can't support the Panzers if the weather is too bad
Technically speaking - so? :wink: Isn't this what happened OTL 1939 into 1940 and it still didn't save the French?

EDIT: on THIS again...
Also the Allies would have 6-7 months after the outbreak of war to frantically build up their forces, just as they did historically
As Olivier says, French domestic aircraft production had BEGUN to grow as a result of nationalisation...but it took ORDERS to really grow capacity, and these were generally late in coming for all the political and budgetary agreement problems. France began to ramp up production, but it didn't really take off (sic) until 1939 into 1940.

Britain was in an equally difficult position in 1938; it HAD settled broadly on what types each service arm was going to be equiped with or in the foreseeable future - but was tied into a growth plan that couldn't be speeded up simply by throwing money at it AND not with the other two services clamouring for rearmament. And it faced war in 1938 WITHOUT the shadow factories etc. :wink:

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by SASH155 » 30 Jan 2010 03:01

Takata's points are spot on. I neglected to mention that France needed to drastically re-vamp her industries.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 30 Jan 2010 05:57

SASH155 wrote:Many here have already touched upon the lack of flexibility in the French army's, and for that matter the BEF's, overall strategy to face the Germans. This was one of the many faults which burdened the allied armies at the time. France was weighed down with a two-nay even three-tier army as regards its fighting capability vis à vis the Germans. There were truly excellent, well trained, motivated and equipped "A" level units which proved their ability to cause the Germans fits; these included such units as Blanchard's 1ère Armée, Giraud's 7ème Armée, the 1ère DCR, the DLMs etc...; however, many of France's infantry units were of variable quality "B" and "C" echelon reservists with minimal training and indifferent leadership. There were so many problems which were only starting or in the process of being addressed at the time Germany attacked the West on May 10th. Here is a list of problems (and some solutions), and in no particular order, that may have changed the outcome; many things listed below were already in the pipeline at the time of the German attack:

1. French army needed far more motivated, professional NCOs to train and lead small units at the squad and company level. Officers needed to be put through rigorous refresher training, thoroughly introduced to the new paradigm of combined arms armored warfare, with medium tanks like the Somua S-35 playing a leading role. Officers needed to lead their men by example; the social barriers between them and their men needed to be broken down, with traditional special privileges for officers vis à vis their men put into abatement.
There were some complex political and social reasons why a large long service NCO corps did not exist in the army of Metropolitan France. This did exist in the colonies. Expanding the tiny professional NCO corps in France would have requires some fundamental changes in how France, that is the political and military leaders & the citizens, understood the role of its army.

I'd also note the NCOs of the "R" or fist class reserve units were far better than the usual examples held up by those who would comment on the French army. I've noticed the difference between the R, A, & B classes of mobilization class units are usually not clearly understood, and the actual performance of the R class units is seldom mentioned or considered in discussions of the French army of 1940.
SASH155 wrote:2. The army as a whole needed to place more emphasis on small unit tactics, fire and manoeuvre, marksmanship, gunnery, physical training, and unit morale building.
By "as a whole" do you mean the A & B class units needed to be brought up to the level of the R class? The French military leaders agreed with that and from the start of mobilization were implementng a plan to do so. its execution was slowed by the decision to divert time to improving the border defenses, and that the B class units were not mobilized imeadiatly, but late in the autum and winter.
SASH155 wrote:3. There needed to be more realistic large unit (at the battalion level and above) exercises during the period from early 1935 on, as soon as it was clear that Germany was openly re-arming, and this in conjunction with close support units of the Armée de l'Air; these latter formations needed to have more dedicated ground attack aircraft such as the superlative Breguet Bre. 693. Concentration to be made on rigorous exercises involving combined arms, ie. more emphasis on use of armor divisions as self contained all arms units.
More large scale exercises would require first the military budget be expanded to pay for such, & then the active service of the reservists be extended to make them available for more training. neither was possible in the economic & political conditions between 1935 & 1939. Although Gamelin & the others did think it necessary.
SASH155 wrote: 4. More radio equipment and training in its use at every level of the army. Radios in all armored fighting vehicles, and all radios to be capable of two-way function, which was not the case in many instances. Portable two way radios in all infantry squads in order to communicate with higher formations.
No army in the world had a portable radio transciever in the infantry squad in 1940. I supose there were experiments with such things but the lightest military radios in production anywhere in 1940 still weighed in around ten-fifteen kilos. Perhaps you mean more widespread use of radios at higher levels of command? There the reasons were only in part 'old fashioned' thinking. In any case simply adding radios, or using the many existing radios more often changes little unless the Armys operational doctrine is changed. The exisitng doctrine/s did not require the extensive use of radios to b properly executed.
SASH155 wrote: 5. Introduction of two or three man turrets on all medium and heavy tanks so as to improve rate of fire and fire control. Introduction of two man turret from the ARL-35 light tank armed with the 47mm SA-35 gun onto most of France's heterogeneous collection of light tanks; rationalization of light tank production to concentrate on the Hotchkiss H-39, but equipped with the earlier mentioned turret.
This can lead towards a interesting discussion on the reallity of German gunnery skills in 1940, the ratio of
german tanks to French tanks actually lost to hits from tank guns (vs many other causes), and tactics. I'll pass with the remark that the three man turret is not a panacea. Fixing problems like faulty intellegence analaysis or inappropriate operational doctrine counts for a lot more.
SASH155 wrote: 6. Crash program to introduce at least two to three 7.5mm MAS-40 semi-auto rifles into every infantry squad by no later than the early spring of 1940; the rest of the infantry to turn in their motley collection of 8mm mle. 1886/93 Lebels, mle. 1907/1915 and mle. 1916 Mannlicher-Berthiers for new 7.5mm MAS-36 bolt rifles; some units would retain the handy and popular Mannlicher-Berthier Mousqueton mle. 1916, but also more MAS-38, and at times, Thompson SMGs should have also been issued to the squads.

7. A second 7.5mm FM-24/29 to be issued at squad level to counter the quantity of automatic weapons in their German counter-parts. New heavy machinegun to be produced (the 9mm MAC-38?). Development of a new belt fed general purpose MG, possibly based on the 7.5mm Reibel MAC-31 armor and fortress MG, or on the belt fed version of the MAC-34 aircraft gun. Introduction of vehicle towed Brandt 120mm heavy mortar into infantry unit heavy weapons companies.
I wont disagree, more firepower is good.
SASH155 wrote: 8. All artillery units to be motorized by 1938-1939; most guns, especially divisional weapons like the 75mm mle. 1897 and 155mm C17S field howitzer to be high speeded with new axles and pneumatic tires. Replace most of the the 75mm mle. 1897 guns one for one with new 105mm mle. 1934S or mle. 1935B field howitzers. All GPF 155mm guns to be converted to the GPFT (Touzard) configuration; more Schneider 105mm mle. 1936 field gun batteries. The armored divisions to have at least one organic battery of SAU-40 SP 75mm guns. More heavy counter battery units equipped with the brand new Schneider Matériel de 155mm long mle. 1932. More artillery tractors such as the Latil TARH and Laffly S-35TL, Somua MCG/MCL series etc... All armor units to have not just organic towed 75mm field gun and/or 105mm field howitzer batteries, but also each DLM and DCR to have at least two organic motorized batteries of 155mm C17S field howitzers, and one organic battery of 105mm Schneider L13S or mle. 1936L field guns.
I think you are reaching for a panacea again. 40 to 45 % of the French field artillery was motorized in 1940, vs 20 to 25% of the German field artillery. I'm skeptical this was at all possible anyway. Conjuring up the funds out of a Depression decade budgets is not likely.
SASH155 wrote: 9. The Somua S-35 (S-40 etc...) series of medium tanks to become the standard tank across the armored units, provided they have new two (or better yet, three man) turrets fitted with proper radio equipment; the B-1bis/ter heavy tank battalions to be attached to new dedicated armored divisions in separate organic heavy tank companies.
I'l leave aside the questions about operating a slow assualt weapon as part of a units otherwise equipped with a relatively fast cavalry type AFV. Fitting what folks would call a three man turret to either the S35 or any otehr production model of 1940 was not possible. Those were compact chassis. A whole new chassis like the G1 had to be designed.
SASH155 wrote: 9. More infantry units to be fully motorized. Infantry battalions attached to the armored divisions (Dragons Portés) to have a purpose built APC, likely based on the Lorraine Chenillette mle. 1937.
The French already had a higher level of motorization than the German army. Seven motorized divsions vs five, with nine rifle battalions & a full complement of artillery in the French Div vs six rifle bn & a truncated artillery regiment in the German version. Across the board the French had a slightly higher ratio of automobiles per division or corps HQ than Germany. While more vehicals are always nice to have a change in doctrine or methods is more important.
SASH155 wrote: 10. More modern AA guns at every field level unit, especially more 20mm Oerlikon guns, 25mm mle. 1939 Hotchkiss LAAGs and 40mm Bofors guns (with a production line set up at MAS, MAT, ATS, Bourges???). More 75mm Schneider mle. 1936 and 90mm mle. 1939 AA guns with the DAT. Use 75mm and 90mm AA guns as dual purpose weapons. In the armored and motorized divisions issue twin 13.2mm Hotchkiss HMGs mounted on vehicles such as Laffly S-20 6x6 carriers, Citroën-Kegresse semi-track tractors etc... in order to provide more effective close in air defense. A corrolary to this would be the introduction of the new 75mm AT gun into specialized AT units, and the issue of the excellent 47mm SA-37 and the new 47mm SA-39 AT guns down to infantry units in order to replace the less powerful 25mm AT guns. More TDs mounting the 47mm SA-37 such as the Laffly S-15. Close support aircraft to be used in dedicated AT role, using 20mm cannon and armor piercing bombs. Press older fighters such as the Morane MS. 406 into ground attack role.
More again. While adding better weapons is good there is the first problem of having the capacity to build all that then paying for it, and the fundamental problem of applying them with a inadaquate doctrine.
SASH155 wrote:Close support aircraft to be used in dedicated AT role, using 20mm cannon and armor piercing bombs.
Eventually there was some sucess using aircraft vs tanks or AFV but the overall track record in WWII was dismal. In 1940 the French did form up some strike groupes specifically for attacking tanks. Armed with AP cannon ammo those units seem to have lost more aircraft than tanks destroyed. Even in 1944 the Brit & US airforces found it far more productive to massacre unarmored trucks and railroad locomotives that to waste ammo trying to knock out tanks.
SASH155 wrote: 11. The full mobilization of France's industries well before 1938 in order to get as much of the new equipment into service as soon as possible. France needed to develop production capacity in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia for as many items as possible, such as ammunition, certain weapon's components, vehicle spare parts, tires etc... Redundant production centers needed to be set up by major northern region/Paris region producers such as Renault, Citroën, Panhard, SOMUA, APX etc... in the south and southwest of France in towns such as Bordeaux, Marseille, Toulouse, Nice, Valence, Clermont Ferrand, Limoges etc... in order to insure against the total loss of production if north lost to an invasion. Build production facilities in the Alps, Pyrenées, Massif Central and Auvergne hidden deep in tunnels and caves in the sides of mountains. Industrial center of France moved for the duration to Lyon/Roanne/St. Etienne area.
Here you are refering to the sort of economic mobilization that was bankrupting Germany & the USSR in that era. Yet again i dont see the point if the operational and tactical doctrines are not changed. Changing those wold be far more effective than a prohibitively expensive industrial dilocation.
SASH155 wrote: 12. The high command shaken up, replacing older, tired men such as Gamelin, Georges, Billotte and Huntziger with up and coming stars such as de Lattre, Juin, de Gaulle, Le Clerc et al. Shake up of Deuxième Bureau, while at same time taking seriously reports from same and Armée de l'Air recon. that the Germans were massing in the Eifel region of Germany and were likely to strike through the Ardennes. More radio and sig. int., infiltration of double agents into Germany. Aggressive special unit (the Corps Francs) raiding into Germany to take prisoners for interrogation. Further Development of Armée de l'Air airborne forces into crack path-finder and "kick in the door" assault/shock units.


Now you are on track. Retiring Gamelin by 1937, or better before he reaches the top in 1933 may open the French army to some healthy debate. That wont solve the problem of peacetime organization and training, but if doctrine can be openly debated then the experiments in mechanization of the 1920s and early 1930s can bear fruit. Ditto for the ideas in circulation for air cooperation and strike doctrine.

Tho I'd not recomend going overboard on the age issue. The German military had lot of overage and geriatric generals. The US Army purged the bulk of its older generals during 1940-41, but the elderly that remained like Patton or Krueger did better than most of the young bucks.

Fundamentally tho what the French army needed was a better doctrine. The "Methodical Battle" had the right idea concerning firepower, and the artillery was more than capable of executing the concept. But, the dismissal of speed in execution and manuver left the French operational capability badly unbalanced. Think of a boxer who has spent all his time training for throwing carefully aimed punches, neglecting speed & agility.
SASH155 wrote:13. Accelerated production of the newest aircraft, possibly involving the de-nationalization of the industry; nationalization caused much disruption in 1936. Concentration on getting more Dewoitine D-520 fighters into the fighter units along the eastern and northern frontiers; ramp up Bloch 152 and 155 production; import more Hawk 75s from Curtiss in U.S. More aggressive aerial recon w/ fighter escort of Germany and frontier areas such as Ardennes/Eifel massif. Accelerated strategic bombing campaign of Germany in conjunction with RAF Bomber Command using the new Lioré et Olivier LéO 451 medium bombers etc... Emphasis on air superiority, sweeping Luftwaffe from the skies with help of RAF Fighter Command and Belgian air force.
Reaching for economic & political impossibilities again. Certainly all those things would be good, but one may as well wish for atomic death rays.
SASH155 wrote:14. Assuming most parameters were met above, all out invasion of Germany by a large combined allied mechanized force as early as mid-September of 1939 with new combined arms armored forces. This would need the full cooperation of a fully re-vamped Belgian army. Ideally this should have been done at time of German re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936, and at latest at the time of the seizure of the Sudetenland in September 1938, with the help of Belgium and Great Britain, as well as a coordinated thrust from Czechoslovakia, and this while Germany was significantly weaker than it would be in 1939-1940. In addition, Britain and U.S. should have been more supportive of France's security and economic concerns during inter-war period, and less concerned with doing business with German companies. Britain's PM Baldwin should not have made his naval deal with Hitler in 1935.
I wont argue that a abrupt attack into Germany in 1939 is a bad goal. And Belgium as a Ally would be good. But, you are overreaching in thinking all the 13 items above are necessary. Aside from a better doctrine a revamped mobilization plan could allow several corps of combat ready R class divisions to begain dismembering the Saar defenses in the first week of mobilization. By M+14 two army HQ could be controling the attack, breaking apart the center of Leebs museum that comprised Army Group C. Around M +21 the Siegfried Line could be history with over 20 of the best French divisions threatening to march to the Ruhr.

This would not require a massive reallocation of French industry & rearmament program. Rather it would need some enrgetic leadership from 1937, leading to changes in the mobilization plans and improvements in doctrine.
SASH155 wrote:
15. Govt. of National Unity for the duration led by men such as Reynaud and de Gaulle; dismissal of defeatist ministers such as Laval; leave officers like Pétain and Weygand in retirement (this would assume that their attitude toward's France's war effort was clearly understood well ahead of time).
Hmmmm....
SASH155 wrote: 16. Aggressive submarine warfare against German merchant fleet and the Kriegsmarine in Baltic and North Sea. Aggressive action by major Franco-British surface units and naval aviation against German surface fleet. Blockade of all German ports.
I'll leave that one for later or others...
SASH155 wrote:
17. Enlist U.S. in supplying ammunition, food, weapons, machine tools etc... possibly later troops and air units.
This was done. large scale orders were placed with US industry for raw materials, machine tools, chemicals, vehicals, naval material, & weapons. Over 3000 aircraft were ordered for delivery in 1940. In march of 1940 a large portion of the French gold reserves were sent across the Atlantic as collateral or security against the increasing batch of orders for military & industrial goods reaching industry in the US and Western hemisphere.

takata_1940
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Posts: 469
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Location: France

Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by takata_1940 » 30 Jan 2010 08:27

Carl Schwamberger wrote: I'd also note the NCOs of the "R" or fist class reserve units were far better than the usual examples held up by those who would comment on the French army. I've noticed the difference between the R, A, & B classes of mobilization class units are usually not clearly understood, and the actual performance of the R class units is seldom mentioned or considered in discussions of the French army of 1940.
SASH155 wrote:2. The army as a whole needed to place more emphasis on small unit tactics, fire and manoeuvre, marksmanship, gunnery, physical training, and unit morale building.
By "as a whole" do you mean the A & B class units needed to be brought up to the level of the R class? The French military leaders agreed with that and from the start of mobilization were implementng a plan to do so. its execution was slowed by the decision to divert time to improving the border defenses, and that the B class units were not mobilized imeadiatly, but late in the autum and winter.
Well Carl, I don't know what you are calling: "R" or fist class reserve units...

Following the French Law of 1927 about the Military Service and the Army Organisation, each male citizen had to serve in the Army for a total of 28 years, starting the year of his 20s' until being 48 years old.

The manpower was classified as such:
• Active service, one year (21) -> active units;
• First Reserve, 19 years (22-40) -> A & B Reserve units;
• Second Reserve, 8 years (41-48) -> Territorial units.

Now, the three first classes of the 1st Reserve were called "availability", meaning that the men could be recalled at any time (or not released from active duty at GHQ will) without a full mobilization decree. This trick was used from the classe 1935 which made 18-24 months of active duty instead of 12 months (as the annual contingent could not be raised from a single "hollow" classe).

For example, the classe 1936 was incorporated on 15 October 1936 and released on October 1938 (24 months later), then recalled in early 1939 (with classe 1935), due to the Czechosl. crisis, and kept in service until the war started. So, it was the best trained, with nearly three years of active service (less a couple of months), but also the weakest classe of the whole:
__________________________
French Classes Manpower (metropolitan)
Source: INSEE - Year 1938 (31 December)
__________________________
Total Men : 19,825,000 (including 1,060,000 WWI invalids)
• Men under military obligations : 8,110,000 (28 Classes)
• Average Annual Contigent: 240.000-250.000 men.
• Next Contigent: 15-10.1939 (delayed on mobilisation)
__________________________
• Young classes (1,661,000 men) - Not incorporated.
[classe] : [birth] : [age] : [census] : [Service]
classe 1943 : 1923 : 16 : 353,000 : -
classe 1942 : 1922 : 17 : 360,000 : -
classe 1941 : 1921 : 18 : 366,000 : -
classe 1940 : 1920 : 19 : 359,000 : -
classe 1939 : 1919 : 20 : 222,000 : -
__________________________
• Active duty (388,000 men)
classe 1938 : 1918 : 21 : 206,000 : 24 months
classe 1937 : 1917 : 22 : 182,000 : 24 months
__________________________
• Availability (382,000 men)
classe 1936 : 1916 : 23 : 173,000 : 24 months
classe 1935 : 1915 : 24 : 209,000 : 18/24 months
__________________________
• First reserve (5,310,000 men)
classe 1934 : 1914 : 25 : 316,000 : 12 months
classe 1933 : 1913 : 26 : 324,000 : 12 months
classe 1932 : 1912 : 27 : 328,000 : 12 months
classe 1931 : 1911 : 28 : 307,000 : 12 months
classe 1930 : 1910 : 29 : 332,000 : 12 months
classe 1929 : 1909 : 30 : 331,000 : 18 months
classe 1928 : 1908 : 31 : 337,000 : 18 months
classe 1927 : 1907 : 32 : 333,000 : 18 months
classe 1926 : 1906 : 33 : 339,000 : 18 months
classe 1925 : 1905 : 34 : 342,000 : 18 months
classe 1924 : 1904 : 35 : 339,000 : 18 months
classe 1923 : 1903 : 36 : 339,000 : 36 months
classe 1922 : 1902 : 37 : 345,000 : 36 months
classe 1921 : 1901 : 38 : 340,000 : 36 months
classe 1920 : 1900 : 39 : 339,000 : 36 months
classe 1919 : 1899 : 40 : 320,000 : WWI losses 3,000 (1.5%)
__________________________
• Second reserve (2,030,000 men)
classe 1918 : 1898 : 41 : 301,000 : WWI losses 21,000 (8.0%)
classe 1917 : 1897 : 42 : 291,000 : WWI losses 29,000 (13.1%)
classe 1916 : 1896 : 43 : 280,000 : WWI losses 54,000 (18,4%)
classe 1915 : 1895 : 44 : 238,000 : WWI losses 78,000 (27.8%)
classe 1914 : 1894 : 45 : 235,000 : WWI losses 85,000 (29.2%)
classe 1913 : 1893 : 46 : 235,000 : WWI losses 67,000 (26.9%)
classe 1912 : 1892 : 47 : 222,000 : WWI losses 77,000 (27.7%)
classe 1911 : 1891 : 48 : 228,000 : WWI losses 68,000 (24.1%)
__________________________
• Old classes (3,730,000 men) - Released from Service.
classe 1910 : 1890 : 49 : 223,000 : WWI losses 64,000 (24.1%)
classe 1909 : 1889 : 50 : 226,000 : WWI losses 63,000 (23.1%)
classe 1908 : 1888 : 51 : 222,000 : WWI losses 59,000 (22.3%)
classe 1907 : 1887 : 52 : 222,000 : WWI losses 55,000 (20.8%)
classe 1906 : 1886 : 53 : 221,000 : WWI losses 50,000 (19.5%)
classe 1905 : 1885 : 54 : 220,000 : WWI losses 51,000 (19.5%)
classe 1904 : 1884 : 55 : 213,000 : WWI losses 51,000 (19.8%)
classe 1903 : 1883 : 56 : 208,000 : WWI losses 49,000 (19.2%)
classe 1902 : 1882 : 57 : 206,000 : WWI losses 48,000 (18.7%)
classe 1901 : 1881 : 58 : 204,000 : WWI losses 44,000 (17.7%)
classe 1900 : 1880 : 59 : 198,000 : WWI losses 39,000 (16.3%)
classe 1899 : 1879 : 60 : 204,000 : WWI losses 30,000 (12.2%)
classe 1898 : 1878 : 61 : 201,000 : WWI losses 26,000 (10.7%)
classe 1897 : 1877 : 62 : 201,000 : WWI losses 21,000 (8.5%)
classe 1896 : 1876 : 63 : 203,000 : WWI losses 18,000 (7.4%)
classe 1895 : 1875 : 64 : 194,000 : WWI losses 16,000 (6.9%)
classe 1894 : 1874 : 65 : 186,000 : WWI losses 15,000 (6.5%)
classe 1893 : 1873 : 66 : 176,000 : WWI losses 13,000 (6.3%)
__________________________
WWI losses: Source: Histoire militaire de la France,
tome III, (sous la direction d'André Corvisier), PUF.
__________________________

S~
Olivier

Gooner1
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Location: London

Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Gooner1 » 30 Jan 2010 12:23

And another way France could have avoided defeat - if Britain had spent money on a Field Force rather than cruddy bombers.

Gooner1
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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Gooner1 » 30 Jan 2010 12:31

phylo_roadking wrote: Czechoslovakia wasn't going to be THAT hard to overrun; as you can see it's air force was pretty hopeless....and once it's fixed border defences punctured, they were inherently weak behind them - and look how the Germans sorted BELGIAN border defences, and Rommel pushed through the Maginot Line Extension south-west of Sedan! NONE of those vaunted border defences proved as strong as anyone thought in the first years of the war...
Outnumbered and outclassed but I don't think the Czecho-Slovak airforce was hopeless ... besides the Soviet air force was likely to come to their aid :wink:
The border defences were not likely to be impregnable but defences are better than no defences and no defences is exactly what the Germany had on its border with France. The WestWall was still a building site.

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