How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Discussions on all aspects of France during the Inter-War era and Second World War.
Sid Guttridge
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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 22 Jun 2020 10:21

Hi Futurist,

Do the maths. If France invades Belgium when it (France) is already at war with Germany, this de facto puts Belgium in the Axis camp. Finland was a liberal democracy and similarly found itself in the Axis camp, if not actually a member of the Pact.

It also undermines any Allied legal, moral and PR advantage gained when Germany attacked Poland.

The fact is that the French weren't worried about the Ardennes or they would also have extended the Maginot line to cover it and placed better quality troops opposite it.

Why are we even discussing this flight of fancy of France invading Belgium to plant mines? They could have given the Belgians the mines without all this ridiculous complication.

Sid

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Futurist » 22 Jun 2020 20:25

Would the Belgians themselves have actually been both willing and able to plant these mines in the Ardennes if the Germans would have invaded Belgium, though? After all, a German invasion of Belgium is likely to be very rapid.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 22 Jun 2020 22:34

Hi futurist,

The proposition of invading Belgium to plant mines in the Ardennes is ridiculous (even assuming this would have been effective on its own). The negative consequences of driving Belgium into Germany's arms would have far outweighed any advantages.

The Belgians had built fortifications and defensive lines against Germany already. There is no reason to think they wouldn't have welcomed additonal mines.

As already explained, the French had other ways of sealing off the Ardennes if it worried them, and these didn't risk pushing Belgium into the German camp by default.

Vherts,

Sid.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Futurist » 22 Jun 2020 23:03

Sid Guttridge wrote:
22 Jun 2020 22:34
As already explained, the French had other ways of sealing off the Ardennes if it worried them, and these didn't risk pushing Belgium into the German camp by default.

Vherts,

Sid.
You mean by building (more?) fortifications in the Sedan area?

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 23 Jun 2020 20:18

Futurist wrote:
22 Jun 2020 20:25
Would the Belgians themselves have actually been both willing and able to plant these mines in the Ardennes if the Germans would have invaded Belgium, though? After all, a German invasion of Belgium is likely to be very rapid.
The Belgians had deployed mines in the Ardennes, the eastern edge along the border. Those mine fields were integrated with a system of concrete MG & AT gun bunkers built pre 1940 & entrenchments, wire, & road blocks, covered by two light mobile divisions. There were materials stockpiled for deploying additional delaying positions through the Ardennes, but I don't know if any of that was deployed. The French had expected those items to be deployed, and for the Belgians to fight a two day mobile delaying action or fighting withdrawal between the eastern border & a line running south from huy to Neufchateau. The four DCL the French sent to that line were intended to reinforce the Belgians. instead they found them selves fighting the Germans alone as the Belgians had been ordered the morning of 10 May to abandon the eastern defense zone and move north of the Maas River. Why they were ordered to abandon a relatively strong delaying position I don't know. But, in the opening hours of 10 May they gave the German advance guards a lot of trouble, before executing their orders.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 23 Jun 2020 20:34

Futurist wrote:
22 Jun 2020 23:03
Sid Guttridge wrote:
22 Jun 2020 22:34
As already explained, the French had other ways of sealing off the Ardennes if it worried them, and these didn't risk pushing Belgium into the German camp by default.

Vherts,

Sid.
You mean by building (more?) fortifications in the Sedan area?
Sending substantially more than the four feather weight DLC to reinforce the Belgian Corps de Ardennes would have bought substantial time. Had Huntziger been directed to advance a substantial delaying force from 2d Army to the Oruq River (sp?) Guderian XIX would have been slowed to the French schedule and attacked at Sedan several days out of sync with the German armored corps attacking at Dinant. 'Sealing' the Ardennes was not practical vs the seven armored division & airpower the Germans used there, but fatally delaying them was possible even if not certain.

Georges, Corap, Hunzinger, & the other key commanders were OTL about 48 hours behind in comprehension of events. Stalling any of the major components of the Sickle Cut maneuver 72 or 48 hours makes things much more difficult for Kleists Panzer Group. Even 24 hours delay in reaching the Meause river buys the French commanders precious time.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Futurist » 23 Jun 2020 20:39

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
23 Jun 2020 20:34
Futurist wrote:
22 Jun 2020 23:03
Sid Guttridge wrote:
22 Jun 2020 22:34
As already explained, the French had other ways of sealing off the Ardennes if it worried them, and these didn't risk pushing Belgium into the German camp by default.

Vherts,

Sid.
You mean by building (more?) fortifications in the Sedan area?
Sending substantially more than the four feather weight DLC to reinforce the Belgian Corps de Ardennes would have bought substantial time. Had Huntziger been directed to advance a substantial delaying force from 2d Army to the Oruq River (sp?) Guderian XIX would have been slowed to the French schedule and attacked at Sedan several days out of sync with the German armored corps attacking at Dinant. 'Sealing' the Ardennes was not practical vs the seven armored division & airpower the Germans used there, but fatally delaying them was possible even if not certain.

Georges, Corap, Hunzinger, & the other key commanders were OTL about 48 hours behind in comprehension of events. Stalling any of the major components of the Sickle Cut maneuver 72 or 48 hours makes things much more difficult for Kleists Panzer Group. Even 24 hours delay in reaching the Meause river buys the French commanders precious time.
What happens if the Germans are fatally delayed at the Ardennes? Are the Anglo-French able to do a successful full evacuation to the Somme with all of their tanks, supplies, and equipment in such a scenario--thus preventing the Germans from encircling them?

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 23 Jun 2020 20:54

Futurist wrote:
22 Jun 2020 07:29
Didn't General Pretelat's war game simulation in (I believe) 1938 show that the Ardennes were much more passable than the French previously believed, though? ...
Yes. Its a myth based on a misquote, that the French leaders thought the Ardennes region impassable. The fact that they sent four of the mechanized DCL into the region rather contradicts the idea they thought it impassable to mechanized corps. In 1914 they rapidly advanced a reinforced army of heavy infantry/artillery corps into the region, showing they understood the actual road conditions there.

In 1939 & early 1940 the 2d Army commander Huntzinger argued the deployment of the DCL inadequate & argued for a much more substantial force to reinforce the Belgians, and for reinforcement of the Meause River defense.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 23 Jun 2020 23:11

Hi Futurist,

The French had pre-war plans to extend the Maginot Line westwards into this area. However, due to financial limitations, they instead chose to build fortifications opposite Italy, which was hostile, unlike Belgium.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 24 Jun 2020 11:56

Sid Guttridge wrote:
23 Jun 2020 23:11
Hi Futurist,

The French had pre-war plans to extend the Maginot Line westwards ...
There had been some maintiance & improvement of the older pre 1914 works. After Sept 1939 the extention plans were partially executed, building a lot of small bunkers and gun positions. Those were the defense works along the river at Sedan, & described by Rommel when his Pz Div crossed the Franco Belgian border.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 25 Jun 2020 10:16

Futurist wrote:
23 Jun 2020 20:39

What happens if the Germans are fatally delayed at the Ardennes? Are the Anglo-French able to do a successful full evacuation to the Somme with all of their tanks, supplies, and equipment in such a scenario--thus preventing the Germans from encircling them?
Actually a successful withdrawal from Belgium was what the Germans thought would happen. In the context of the tests of the many plans proposed during the winter of 1939-1940 that was counted as a strategic victory by the top German leaders. They hoped that with such a set back the Anglo French would see the light and start negotiating a peace. It was thought the threat of being split & trapped would precipitate a retreat while the French reserves would delay the main attack by AG A. I'd refer anyone to Mays 'Strange Victory' for some context on what he Germans actually thought would happen when the Sickle Cut maneuver was executed.

The objective of the Sickle Cut maneuver was to reach the Channel & cut off substantial Allied forces in the Low countries, but based on the map and field exercises during the winter it was concluded the Allies would probably delay the maneuver long enough to escape any large scale entrapment. The Dutch Army and several corps of the others could be caught or run down, but trapping or overrunning five entire Allied armies was considered to low a probability to take seriously. A hypothetical threat & operational goal, but not the probable outcome. Capturing the Low Countries and sending the Allied ground forces running south in disorder was seen as a realistic outcome.

A truly fatal outcome would be Panzer Group Kliest stalled in the Ardennes, unable to cross the Meause River, with Army Group A piled up in a massive traffic jam. In that sense the Ardennes would truly become impassable with several million men and horses, & 100,000+ automobiles clogging its roads & farm lanes. The Sickle Cut maneuver depended on a entire Army Group rushing through a 110 km wide corridor, from Luxembourg city to just south of Liege, on a strict schedule. Mays does not describe every map or field exercise in detail, but he & other historians like Chapman or Horne hint that some of the exercises had a outcome close to this.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Futurist » 25 Jun 2020 20:21

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
25 Jun 2020 10:16
Futurist wrote:
23 Jun 2020 20:39

What happens if the Germans are fatally delayed at the Ardennes? Are the Anglo-French able to do a successful full evacuation to the Somme with all of their tanks, supplies, and equipment in such a scenario--thus preventing the Germans from encircling them?
Actually a successful withdrawal from Belgium was what the Germans thought would happen. In the context of the tests of the many plans proposed during the winter of 1939-1940 that was counted as a strategic victory by the top German leaders. They hoped that with such a set back the Anglo French would see the light and start negotiating a peace. It was thought the threat of being split & trapped would precipitate a retreat while the French reserves would delay the main attack by AG A. I'd refer anyone to Mays 'Strange Victory' for some context on what he Germans actually thought would happen when the Sickle Cut maneuver was executed.

The objective of the Sickle Cut maneuver was to reach the Channel & cut off substantial Allied forces in the Low countries, but based on the map and field exercises during the winter it was concluded the Allies would probably delay the maneuver long enough to escape any large scale entrapment. The Dutch Army and several corps of the others could be caught or run down, but trapping or overrunning five entire Allied armies was considered to low a probability to take seriously. A hypothetical threat & operational goal, but not the probable outcome. Capturing the Low Countries and sending the Allied ground forces running south in disorder was seen as a realistic outcome.
Why would a loss of the Low Countries actually be enough to get the Anglo-French to negotiate peace? After all, almost all of Belgium and parts of northern France fell to the Germans during World War I and yet the Allies were not willing to negotiate peace with the Germans back then!
A truly fatal outcome would be Panzer Group Kliest stalled in the Ardennes, unable to cross the Meause River, with Army Group A piled up in a massive traffic jam. In that sense the Ardennes would truly become impassable with several million men and horses, & 100,000+ automobiles clogging its roads & farm lanes. The Sickle Cut maneuver depended on a entire Army Group rushing through a 110 km wide corridor, from Luxembourg city to just south of Liege, on a strict schedule. Mays does not describe every map or field exercise in detail, but he & other historians like Chapman or Horne hint that some of the exercises had a outcome close to this.
If the Allies would have actually had air superiority and this scenario would have occurred, then they could have bombed the German forces in the Ardennes to smithereens, correct? It's regretful that to my knowledge neither of these things were actually true, though. :(

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 25 Jun 2020 22:38

Futurist wrote:
25 Jun 2020 20:21
...

Why would a loss of the Low Countries actually be enough to get the Anglo-French to negotiate peace? After all, almost all of Belgium and parts of northern France fell to the Germans during World War I and yet the Allies were not willing to negotiate peace with the Germans back then! ...
It was a hope of the German leaders. More because they did not want a war with Britain and France and hoped to end the war quickly on favorable terms. In looking at this we have to remember many of the nazi leaders were surprised Britain and France even bothered to declare war over Poland, and surprised again there were no offers to call the thing off after Poland was conquered. Don't look to hard for logic in Hitlers, Ribbentrops, Goerings, & the others thinking. They had their own peculiar ideas of how the world worked, which is why they surprised more 'rational' politicians like Daladier, Chamberlain, Renaud. ect...

Looking at their record it appears the desire to snd the war in the west quickly was rationalized into 'it will end quickly cause our enemies are not serious & have no stomach for real war like we fight it'. The collapse of France makes it look like they were right & everything was carefully calculated according to a master plan. What it actually looks like is the nazi leadership politically miscalculated & got itself into a bad situation, then were saved by a high risk gamble put together and executed by professional soldiers.

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Futurist » 25 Jun 2020 22:44

Makes sense; thanks, Carl! :)

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Re: How could France have avoided defeat in WWII?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 25 Jun 2020 22:55

Futurist wrote:
25 Jun 2020 20:21
...
A truly fatal outcome would be Panzer Group Kliest stalled in the Ardennes, unable to cross the Meause River, with Army Group A piled up in a massive traffic jam. In that sense the Ardennes would truly become impassable with several million men and horses, & 100,000+ automobiles clogging its roads & farm lanes. The Sickle Cut maneuver depended on a entire Army Group rushing through a 110 km wide corridor, from Luxembourg city to just south of Liege, on a strict schedule. Mays does not describe every map or field exercise in detail, but he & other historians like Chapman or Horne hint that some of the exercises had a outcome close to this.
If the Allies would have actually had air superiority and this scenario would have occurred, then they could have bombed the German forces in the Ardennes to smithereens, correct? It's regretful that to my knowledge neither of these things were actually true, though. :(
Unfortunately they didn't. The French air force was in the middle of reequipng, with a third+ of the groups stood down to trade off their obsolescent equipment. Then there is the problem of tactics. On 12 May a group of LeO45 bombers made their best effort on the packed roads in the Ardennes. The pilots were well trained in very low level attack techniques, which were the worst tactics for the situation. Depending on how the damage is assessed losses were over 50% & approached 70%. The massacres of the AAF & French groups attacking the Meause River crossings a few days later had as much to do with bad tactics/techniques as aircraft specs.

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