In my original Word and .pdf files I have included several maps an photos but I was too lazy to attach them individually here.
THE FRENCH CAVALRY CORPS IN 1940
In 1932-1935, the first fully motorized/mechanized French unit, the 1e DLM (Division Légère Mécanique = Light Mechanized Division), was born and developed. The 2e DLM was born in 1937 and the 3e DLM in February 1940. There will be 3 DLMs on 10th May 1940 (1e DLM, 2e DLM and 3e DLM) forming the French cavalry corps under command of general Prioux.
The DLM is more powerful than the DCR, faster and more mobile. It is a unit fully adapted to modern mobile warfare. The term "light" referred to its speed and mobility.
The 1e DLM and 2e DLM became very well trained divisions (even at the divisional an corps level) with efficient crews and specialists. Manoeuvres and trainings were organized at large scale in 1935, 1936, 1937 1938, 1939 and the last divisional training in 1940.. They included deep penetration behind fortifications, cooperation with close air support and close inter-arms cooperation. The crew knew their tanks and how to operate them. The gunners were skilled and trained. The 3e DLM formed in 1940 had only reservists who did their military service on horse and some of them discovered their tank a short time before being engaged, except some officers and specialists originating from the other DLMs.
The cavalry corps and the corresponding HQ is created at the mobilization beginning September 1939. It is under the command of general Prioux until 25th May 1940 when he took command of the 1st army and general Langlois replaced him at the head of the cavalry corps. The cavalry corps contains initially only the 1e DLM and 2e DLM. The 1e DLM is then attached to the 7th army to operate in the Netherlands on 10th May 1940. It is replaced in the cavalry corps by the 3e DLM on 26th March 1940. During the 1940 western campaign the cavalry corps will regroup 1, 2 or the 3 DLMs.
Each DLM included about 10,400 men and 3,400 vehicles :
• 1 divisional HQ
• 1 light motorized brigade (BLM = Brigade Légère Motorisée) with 2 armored cavalry regiments (RC = Régiment de Cuirassiers or RD = Régiment de Dragons).
1e DLM : 174 tanks (+ 16 reserve tanks) in the 1e BLM
• 4e RC (43+4 Hotchkiss H35 and 44+4 Somua S35)
• 18e RD (43+4 Hotchkiss H35 and 44+4 Somua S35)
2e DLM : 174 tanks (+ 16 reserve tanks) in the 3e BLM
• 13e RD (43+4 Hotchkiss H35 and 44+4 Somua S35)
• 29e RD (43+4 Hotchkiss H35 and 44+4 Somua S35)
3e DLM : 174 tanks (+ 16 reserve tanks) in the 5e BLM
• 1e RC (43+4 Hotchkiss H39 and 44+4 Somua S35)
• 2e RC (43+4 Hotchkiss H39 and 44+4 Somua S35)
• 1 light motorized brigade (BLM = Brigade Légère Motorisée) with 1 armored reconnaissance regiment (regiment de découverte) and 1 RDP (Régiment de Dragons Portés = mechanized cavalry regiment)
1e DLM : 107 armored cars in the 2e BLM
• 6e RC : 40 Panhard 178 (+1 radio car + 2 reserve armored car)
• 4e RDP : 67 AMR33 / AMR35 ZT1 (+2 reserve armored cars)
2e DLM : 107 armored cars in the 4e BLM
• 8e RC : 40 Panhard 178 (+1 radio car + 2 reserve armored car)
• 1e RDP : 67 AMR33 / AMR35 ZT1 (+2 reserve armored cars)
3e DLM : 107 tanks / armored cars in the 6e BLM
• 12e RC : 40 Panhard 178 (+1 radio car + 2 reserve armored car)
• 11e RDP : 22 Hotchkiss H35 and 47 Hotchkiss H39
• 1 divisional AT squadron (EDAC = Escadron Divisionnaire Anti-Char)
• 1 divisional repair and recovery squadron
• 1 motorized artillery regiment (with all-terrain tractors)
• 1 motorized AT battery (BDAC = Batterie Divisionnaire Anti-Char)
• 1 motorized AA battery (BDAA = Batterie Divisionnaire Anti-Aérienne)
• 1 engineer battalion (3 motorized companies plus a bridging company)
• 1 telegraph company
• 1 radio company
• 1 carrier-pigeon detachment
• 1 HQ motor transport company
• 1 divisional quartermaster group
• 1 divisional medical group
During early June 1940, the remains of the 5 DLC were to be converted to a DLM "type réduit", a reduced DLM :
• 1e DLC as 4e DLM
• 2e DLC as 5e DLM
• 3e DLC as 6e DLM
• 4e DLC as 7e DLM
• 5e DLC as 8e DLM
The deteriorating military situation meant only 4e DLM and 7e DLM were actually formed.
The 1e DLM, 2e DLM and 3e DLM are also reconstituted beginning June, as reduced DLMs, with men evacuated from Dunkirk and who returned to France after a transit in Great Britain. These 5 DLMs fought until 25th June 1940.
The cavalry tanks are organized in "escadrons" (1 escadron = 1 squadron) and in "pelotons" (1 peloton = 1 platoon). For example in a cavalry unit like the 4e Régiment de Cuirassiers there are : 44 Somua S35 and 43 Hotchkiss H35 (+4 reserve tanks of each model) :
• 1 regiment command tank (1 Somua S35)
• 1 Somua S35 squadrons group = 43 Somua S35 :
--o 1 Somua S35 squadrons group command tank (1 Somua S35)
--o 1st squadron (21 Somua S35) (one "escadron" with 4 "pelotons")
---- 1 squadron commander tank
---- 4 platoons of 5 tanks
--o 3rd squadron (21 Somua S35s) (one "escadron" with 4 "pelotons")
---- 1 squadron commander tank
---- 4 platoons of 5 tanks
• 1 Hotchkiss squadrons group = 43 Hotchkiss H35 :
--o 1 squadrons group command tank (1 Hotchkiss H35)
--o 2nd squadron (21 Hotchkiss H35) (one "escadron" with 4 "pelotons")
---- 1 squadron commander tank
---- 4 platoons of 5 tanks
--o 4th squadron (21 Hotchkiss H35) (one "escadron" with 4 "pelotons")
---- 1 squadron commander tank
---- 4 platoons of 5 tanks
At the beginning of the 1940 western campaign, there are 83 French divisions in the north-east area (3 DLMs, 3 DCRs, 5 DLCs, 72 infantry divisions and 4 cavalry brigades). The 6 DCR/DLM armored divisions were never the equivalent in power and combined arms than a Panzerdivision. There are also 10 British divisions (BEF), 22 Belgian divisions (but their real men strength corresponds only to 12 divisions) and 8 Dutch divisions. The allied had therefore a strength of 123 divisions (113 with the real strength of the Belgian divisions) to face a total of 136 German divisions. There are the equivalent of 13 French divisions on the Maginot line and 6 French divisions initially left to face the Italians.
The allied Dyle-Breda plan is to stop the German offensive in Belgium and the Netherlands with the French 1st and 7th armies and the BEF, using the Ardennes and the Sedan area as a hinge on their right flank. The 3 French DLMs have to delay the German troops of Armee Gruppe B (3 Panzerdivisionen) and to establish contacts with the Belgian and Dutch armies in order to allow the allied infantry to deploy. The French have therefore a fast mechanical force but lacking in AA protection and without serious air cover.
The defense of the Ardennes and of the Meuse River is taken in charge by the 9th and 2nd French armies : 7 French divisions generally largely under equipped (sometimes no AA guns like for the 55e DI and 71e DI which had also respectively only 12 and 8 AT guns instead of 62) defended an overstretched front on the Meuse River (from Houx to Sedan - that is 15-30 km for each division whereas an infantry division should theoretically defend a 5-7 km front only) facing 40 German divisions including 7 concentrated Panzerdivisionen, with about 1400 German bombers and attack planes concentrated on a small area during hours. The French troops can there only rely on a good artillery support but only on very insufficient fortifications. The Maginot Line by itself is indeed stopping at the border with the Luxembourg.
General Blanchard (French 1st army) was opposed to the entry in Belgium, judging the Belgian army unable to delay the Germans long enough to enable the deployment of the French troops in Belgium. Indeed the Belgian neutrality obsession did not allow the allied troops to enter Belgium before the German invasion. He evaluated the required time at about 1 week. The Belgians should also have prepared entrenched positions and anti-tank ditches on the future French positions but grossly nothing was done except the beginning of an anti-tank ditch next to Gembloux.
General Gamelin, the commander in chief, nevertheless saw several advantages in the Dyle-Breda operation :
• protection of the industrial area of north-eastern France
• shortening the front between the Maginot Line and the North Sea by 70 km
• offering better chances to rescue the Belgian army and integrate it in the whole allied deployment
The British of course wanted the war as far as possible from the homeland.
The generals Georges (commander in chief north-east) and Bilotte (1st army corps) thought that only a reduced version of this operation, on the Escaut River, was really possible and that the Dyle-Breda line was too far. General Prioux, commander of the cavalry corps, which will have the task to delay the Germans in Belgium with the 2e DLM and the 3e DLM shared the same point of view and did not think that the Belgian army was able to face the German troops.
General Corap, commander of the 9th army on the Meuse River is also opposed to the Dyle-Breda operation and is worried about the weakness of his troops and the too huge front they have to defend (20-30 km for one division instead of 5-7 km). General Giraud (French 7th army), known for his rather offensive spirit, is also opposed to the operation in Belgium. Nevertheless, Gamelin persisted and engaged not only French troops in Belgium on the Dyle but also the potential of the 7th army in an operation in the Netherlands, sacrificing troops that could have constituted a crucial reserve later.
On 10th May 1940, the German army attacks the Netherlands, Belgium and the Luxembourg. Some 4,500 airborne troops (paratroops and glider troops) and Brandenburg commandos seize several important bridges including 2 bridges on the Albert canal, enabling the XVI. Panzerkorps to rapidly cross and capture Maastricht. The Eben Emaël fort is quickly and easily defeated by a special assault group. During the night the German engineers establish a bridge to cross the Meuse River.
1. THE CAVALRY CORPS IN BELGIUM
The French cavalry corps (2e and 3e DLM) enters in Belgium on 10th May at 10h30, followed by the French 1st army. They wished they could have moved before the German attack but this was not possible due to the Belgian neutrality. General Prioux sends captain Métivier from his staff to makes liaison with general Krahe, commander of the 3rd Belgian corps. He reports the little will of cooperation of the Belgians. He also notes that the "Cointet" mobile AT obstacles planned around Gembloux are not deployed, they are completely dispersed several kilometres further around Perwez. The future French positions should have been fortified by the Belgians but except a short portion of AT ditch absolutely nothing was done. The French troops will therefore have to defend on a completely unprepared position. To add to these bad news, Belgian railroad workers went on strike and delayed the arrival of armored elements of the cavalry corps.
General Prioux estimates that it will be difficult to fulfil the delay mission with the German massive air superiority. The operation on the Dyle was based on two hypothesises which appeared already wrong :
• the value of the defensive position at Gembloux
• the capacity of resistance of the Belgian army
He contacts the high command to try to modify the operation into the less ambitious "Escaut" one since only the 3 motorized infantry divisions of the French 1st army were already moving in Belgium. Bilotte, Georges and Blanchard all disagreed with him. The French 1st army will move day and night despite the Luftwaffe. The mission of the cavalry corps is to delay the German troops around Hannut until 14th May before withdrawing behind the French 1st army deployed in Gembloux gap between the Dyle and the Meuse Rivers.
On 11th May, the 4.PzD crosses the Meuse River while the cavalry corps is deploying in the Ophelissem, Hannut, Huy area. On 12th May, the Belgian army retreats to the Dyle River between Anvers and Louvain, exposing the flanks of the French cavalry corps.
The battle of Hannut (12th-14th May) is the first big tank battle of World War 2 : 411 French tanks (3e DLM and 2e DLM) are facing 674 German tanks (4.PzD and 3.PzD). The battle takes place between the Petite Gette stream and the Méhaigne small river, in the area hold by the 3e DLM. The 2e DLM is far less engaged. On 12th May only the 4.PzD is really involved, the 3.PzD having completely crossed the Meuse River only for the 13th May.
The area is favorable to the tanks, therefore to the enemy whose tanks are more numerous. The Germans are also strongly supported by the Luftwaffe whereas on the French side each DLM has only 3 modern reconnaissance aircrafts attached. The battle of Hannut shows that the Somua S35 tank can be at least the equal of the Panzer III and that the Panzer I and Panzer II are rather useless against the French tanks.
During the battle of Hannut, general Prioux had the actual command of a real French tank corps facing a German tank corps. They inflicted heavy losses to the Germans. The use of such a French tank corps is unique during the 1940 campaign except perhaps the formation of the "groupement Buisson" beginning June for the battles on the Aisne and Retourne Rivers south of Rethel which grouped the 3e DCR and the 7e DLM.
On 14th May, having blocked the Germans as long as it was ordered, during 2 days, the cavalry corps moves back behind the French lines at Gembloux. Prioux is ordered to let part of his artillery to the French 1st army. During the battle of Gembloux (14th-15th May) the XVI. Panzerkorps will again be blocked by the 1e DM (Division Marocaine = Moroccan infantry division) and the 15e DIM (Division d'Infanterie Motorisée = motorized infantry division) which anchored their defenses on the Bruxelles-Namur railroad and the cities of Gembloux and Ernage. All the German assaults are repulsed and the XVI. Panzerkorps sustains heavy losses. Nevertheless the German breakthrough at Sedan will force the rather successful allied troops in Belgium to move back.
1.1 The battle of Hannut (12th-14th May 1940)
PzBfWg : 29
Panzer I : 117
Panzer II : 129
Panzer III : 42
Panzer IV : 26
armored cars : 56 (including 23 with a 2.0cm L/55 gun)
3.7cm PaK L/45 : 51
2.0cm FlaK 30/38 : 24
8.8cm FlaK L/56 : 9
7.5cm leIG : 24
15cm sIG : 8
10.5cm leFH : 24
15cm sFH : 12
+ attached M.G.-Btl.7 : 12 3.7cm PaK L/45
+ attached II./Flak-Lehr-Rgt : 9 8.8cm FlaK L/56 and 24 2.0cm/3.7cm FlaK
PzBfWg : 15
Panzer I : 141
Panzer II : 111
Panzer III : 40
Panzer IV : 24
armored cars : 56 (including 23 with a 2.0cm L/55 gun)
3.7cm PaK L/45 : 51
2.0cm FlaK 30/38 : 24
8.8cm FlaK L/56 : 9
7.5cm leIG : 24
15cm sIG : 8
10.5cm leFH : 48
15cm sFH : 24
+ attached Pz.Jg.Abt.654 : 12 3.7cm PaK L/45
+ attached M.G.-Btl.7 : 12 3.7cm PaK L/45
TOTAL XVI. Panzerkorps
tanks : 674 (including 132 Panzer III and Panzer IV + )
armored cars : 112 (including 46 with a 2.0cm L/55 gun)
3.7cm PaK L/45 : 138
2.0cm / 3.7cm FlaK : 72
8.8cm FlaK L/56 : 27
7.5cm leIG : 48
12cm sIG : 16
10.5cm leFH : 72
15cm sFH : 36
+ 14 infantry/motorcycle battalions
Hotchkiss H35 : 84
Somua S35 : 88
armored cars : 107 (including 40 Panhard 178 and 67 AMR33 / AMR35 ZT1)
47mm SA37 L/53 AT guns : 8
25mm SA34/37 L/72 AT guns : 12
25mm AA guns : 6
75mm Mle1897 field guns : 24
105mm field guns : 12
+ 3 infantry/motorcycle battalions
Hotchkiss H35 : 22
Hotchkiss H39 : 129
Somua S35 : 88
armored cars : 40 (Panhard 178)
47mm SA37 L/53 AT guns : 8
25mm SA34/37 L/72 AT guns : 12
25mm AA guns : 6
75mm Mle1897 field guns : 24
105mm field guns : 12
+ 3 infantry/motorcycle battalions
TOTAL French cavalry corps
Hotchkiss H35 and H39 : 235
Somua S35 : 176
armored cars : 147 (including 80 Panhard 178 and 67 AMR33 / AMR35 ZT1)
47mm SA37 L/53 AT guns : 16
25mm SA34/37 L/72 AT guns : 24
25mm AA guns : 12
75mm Mle1897 field guns : 48
105mm field guns : 24
+ 6 infantry/motorcycle battalions
• 411 tanks (including 176 Somua S35 and about 60 Hotchkiss with a 37mm L/33 SA38 gun)
• 147 armored cars
• 40 AT guns
• 12 AA guns
• 72 field guns
• 6 infantry/motorcycle battalions
• 674 tanks (including 132 Panzer III and Panzer IV)
• 112 armored cars
• 165 AT guns (including 27 8.8cm FlaK L/56)
• 72 AA guns
• 108 field guns (including 72 10.5cm leFH sometimes used in direct fire against the French tanks)
• 54 infantry guns
• 14 infantry/motorcycle battalions
The 3e DLM (general Langlois) will have to face directly 2 Panzerdivisionen : 3.PzD (general Stumpff) and 4.PzD (general Stever). The 2e DLM (general Bougrain) will be only partially implicated. Therefore the 674 German tanks including 132 Panzer III and Panzer IV will mainly be opposed to 239 French tanks including 88 Somua S35 tanks.
On 10th May 1940, the reconnaissance elements of the 8e RC (colonel Mario) of the 2e DLM the 12e RC (colonel Leyer) of the 3e DLM moves towards the Meuse River, Liège and Maastricht. The core of the cavalry corps is moving to the area of Hannut.
On 11th May, general Prioux choose to wait for the enemy on the Tirlemeont-Huy line, using the Petite Gette stream and the Méhaigne small river to anchor the defense. The north part behind the Petite Gette stream and Hannut is defended by the 3e DLM, which will have to face the main assault, and the south part behind the Méhaigne small river is defended by the 2e DLM. During the morning the Belgian army is retreating, exposing the flanks of the cavalry corps ; the actions of the different allies is not coordinated unlike the 136 German divisions under a same and efficient high command. The French reconnaissance patrols are in contact with the German armored elements between Maastricht and Liège.
The area of the 3e DLM is divided in 2 sectors organized in depth with infantry strongpoints in each town, village or farm hold by the 11e RDP (colonel des Revouy) supported by tank groups deployed on the rear, ready to counter-attack between the infantry positions.
The northern sector is defended by the 6e BLM (colonel des Loges) :
• 12e RC (40 Panhard 178 armored cars) whose elements are currently in reconnaissance patrols
• 11e RDP (2 infantry battalions with 44 Hotchkiss tanks)
The 2nd battalion of the 11e RDP (II/11e RDP,captain Brau) is deployed around Ophelissem and the 3rd battalion of the 11e RDP (III/11e RDP,squadron commander Kientz) is around Marilles and Orp.
The southern sector is defended by the 5e BLM (general de La Font) :
• 1e RC (43 Hotchkiss H39 and 44 Somua S35)
• 2e RC (43 Hotchkiss H39 and 44 Somua S35)
• 11e RDP (1 infantry battalion with 22 Hotchkiss tanks)
The first line around Hannut and Crehen is defended by the 1st battalion of the 11e RDP (I/11e RDP, capitaine Lafargue). The 2e RC (lieutenant-colonel Touzet du Vigier) has the task to protect this first line with 2 Somua S35 squadrons and 2 Hotchkiss H39 squadrons. The 1e RC (lieutenant-colonel de Vernejoul) is maintained in reserve in Jauche.
The 2e DLM has also organized an in-depth defense with the 3 infantry battalions and the 67 AMR33 / AMR35 ZT1 armored cars of the 1e RDP (colonel de Bellefon) and the tanks of the 13e RD (lieutenant-colonel Juin de Baisse) and of the 29e RD (colonel Baruteau).
12th May 1940
The reconnaissance elements of colonel Leyer delay the 4.PzD until 12th May at 9h00 before moving back to the positions of the 6e BLM. The 4.PzD attacks, strongly supported by the VIII. Fliegerkorps (general von Richtofen) and its 342 Ju87 "Stuka" dive bombers. The Pz.Rgt.35 (colonel Eberbach) supported by 1 infantry battalion is the first to attack the French troops. The Hannut area is attacked by Panzergruppe Eberbach. The I/11e RDP holds and strikes back despite heavy losses mainly due to the 2.0cm guns of the Panzer II with their high rate of fire. The German tanks reached the center of the town. A first counter-attack is launched by the 3rd squadron of the 2e RC (Hotchkiss tanks, captain Sainte-Marie Perrin) : 11 French tanks and 5 German tanks are destroyed. The 10 other Hotchkiss tanks are ordered to retreat. The inefficiency of the 37mm SA18 L/21 gun of 80% of the Hotchkiss tanks is demonstrated ; it is unable to destroy the Panzer III and Panzer IV at 100m.
In Crehen, the Somua S35 tanks (lieutenant Lotsisky) destroy 4 German tanks, 1 AT gun battery and several trucks. Next to Thisnes, despite heavy losses, the French troops stop the Germans and destroy the regimental command tank of colonel Eberbach (who will later be commander of the 4.PzD). The Somua S35 tanks launch a real charge against the enemy and stop the German advance in front of Crehen. Several German tanks are burning after the counter-attack of the Somua S35 tanks. At the end of the day, Crehen is evacuated by the French dragons portés who move back to Merdorp, Jandrenouille and Jandrain, on their second line.
A renewed German assault is launched between Crehen and Hannut at 20h00, after a strong artillery preparation. A French artillery preparation is followed by the counter-attack of 1 Somua S35 tank squadron (only 21 tanks) of the 2e RC led by captain de Beaufort. The Somua S35 tanks destroy meticulously every German tank and resist to the German guns. This attack inflicts heavy losses to the Germans who are forced to retreat. Many Somua S35 tanks come back with 20-40 2.0cm and 3.7cm hits without any damage.
The 4.PzD is also defeated more north on the Petite Gette stream, in front of Tirlemont. The German attempts to cross the Méhaigne river more south are defeated by the tanks of the 2e DLM which also supported the 3e DLM by firing on the tanks moving against the 3e DLM. During the rest of the night there are only artillery battles.
During the night, General Hoepner realizes the inefficiency of his light tanks against the French tanks. He orders to engage the Hotchkiss tanks but to avoid combat with the Somua S35 tank. The French 47mm L/32 SA35 gun is able to destroy every German tank at 800-1000m but the the 3.7cm KwK proved to be rather useless at standard range (300-400m) against the Somua S35. The Somua S35 tanks will have to be neutralized by the Panzer III, Panzer IV and AT guns at close range and by the 8.8cm FlaK or 10.5cm leFH in direct fire at long range.
13th May 1940
On 13th May, the 3.PzD joins the 4.PzD. Nevertheless, at dawn the French troops are attacking and not the German ones. 6 Somua S35 platoons of the 2e DLM (30 tanks), led by captain de Villèle, attack at 5h30 the southern flank of the 4.PzD. They slaughtered German tanks and their losses were very small and mainly due to the use of 8.8cm FlaK in AT role.
At 9h00, the Luftwaffe attacks massively Jauche, Merdorp and Jandrain. At 10h00, the German assault is launched. The German infantry clashes with the III/11e RDP and at 11h00 the tanks of the 3.PzD and 4.PzD attack concentrated on a front of less than 5 km wide. The 3.PzD towards Orp and the 4.PzD towards Jandrenouille. The French infantry strongpoints organized in hedgehogs are submerged, many Hotchkiss tanks are destroyed.
At 13h30, the 1e RC (colonel de Vernejoul) which was maintained in reserve in Jauche in engaged. The 2nd squadron of the 1e RC (21 Somua S35 tanks, captain Ameil) is launched in a north to south attack against the 4.PzD positions north of Jandrenouille. The Somua S35 tanks stop, hull-down, at 800m of the German positions. All the German tanks are crowded in a forest edge. The Somua S35 tanks open fire and slaughter systematically the German tanks at long range. At the same time, the Somua S35 squadron led by captain de Beaufort (2e RC) launches a south to north counter-attack against the other flank of the 4.PzD. The 4.PzD looses many burning tanks and cannot deploy as it was planned.
Elements of the 3.PzD are engaged to outflank the Somua S35 tanks of captain Ameil but on the way they encounter the 1st squadron (21 Somua S35, lieutenant Mazeran) of the 1e RC, perfectly embossed and engaging them on the flank.
About 50 German tanks are knocked out but the Somua S35 tanks have to abandon their position because of lack of ammunition. Only lieutenant Racine's platoon manages to retreat without losses. 29 hits of 2.0cm and 3.7cm shells are numbered on his tank but without serious damage. Only 16 out of the 42 Somua S35 tanks of the 1e RC are still completely operational on 13th May evening, all covered with 20-40 impacts, the others have to be repaired or had been abandoned/destroyed. Many German shells had been wasted against the French tanks without success at a too long range.
The 3.PzD is more lucky, most of the Somua S35 tanks being already engaged against the 4.PzD. General Stumpff commanding the 3.PzD, unlike the 4.PzD, doesn't try to reduce all the French infantry strongpoints but tries to infiltrate deeper. Nevertheless, several tanks remain stuck in the Petite Gette stream and several tanks are lost in front of the strongpoint of Marilles hold by the II/11e RDP.
Lieutenant-colonel du Vigier (2e RC) engages against the 3.PzD his last 4 platoons : 10 Hotchkiss and 10 Somua S35 tanks. Jandrin is encircled, Jauche is close to the same fate but Marilles can be evacuated by the infantry under the cover of the French tanks.
The 3e DLM is ordered to move back on new positions at 16h00 and the 2e DLM, far less engaged, at 17h00. The French 1st army is about 30 km behind but general Prioux has been ordered to delay the Germans until 14th May. The cavalry corps moves about 10 km back in the area of Perwez hold by the 4e GRDI (general Arlabosse), the reconnaissance group of the 15e DIM. The 4e GRDI includes motorcycle platoons but also 13 Laffly 50 AM and 12 Citroën-Kégresse P16 armored cars. There are no natural elements really useful to build a defense, only several dispersed and rather useless "Cointet" mobile AT obstacles.
During this time the Luftwaffe attacks all the French rears, on the frontline the French and German troops are too closely mixed. Fuel supply issues force the XVI.Panzerkorps to stop on the Jauche – Ramilles line. At 21h00, the 3e DLM is deployed on its new positions and the 2e DLM is deployed early on 14th May.
14th May 1940
North of the French cavalry corps, the British troops move back behind the Dyle River. South of the French troops the Belgian army retreats on Bruxelles. Both flanks of the cavalry corps are exposed.
During the morning the 3.PzD and 4.PzD attack strongly the center of the new French deployment, but they are defeated by the French artillery and perfectly embossed tanks. The 2e DLM and 3e DLM block the enemy until 15h00 when they start to move back behind the French 1st army around Gembloux. Mission accomplished for the cavalry corps of general Prioux.
Germans never attacked with less than a tank battalion (about 80 tanks including 10 Panzer III and 6 Panzer IV) against French units of the strength of s squadron (about 20 tanks). The main reason is a better tactical regulation mainly due to more radio sets on the German side. French officers latter admitted that they were surprised by the German tank concentration.
The French tanks due to their 1-man turret were probably a bit more intricate to use and were more often embossed in a rather static position, firing on the German tanks at medium/long range, than engaged in a pure melee-like combat. Contrary to the 1e DLM and 2e DLM who had well trained crews, the 3e DLM (except some officers from the other DLMs) had only reservists who did their military service on horse and some of them discovered their tank a short time before being engaged. They had fired a few shells at Suippes and now, they were facing a flood of German panzers ! (It is still amazing that they did not run away at this glance). To worsen the situation, most of the Somua of the 3e DLM went to combat with 2 crew members instead of 3, many tankers were in permission at the beginning of the combats and therefore nobody was there to help the commander to reload. In these tanks the Somua had really a 1-man turret instead of a 1 ½ one. This can explain why *one* German source (even not specified) is quoted in Gunsburg's article "battle of the Belgian plain" about the bad gunnery skills of the French tankers. The 3e DLM in Hannut which had a very high proportion of reservists sustained heavy losses while the more experienced crews of the 2e DLM (also less engaged) in the same battle had only light losses. Nevertheless the 3e DLM reservists inflicted significant losses to the elite of the Panzerwaffe. Each counter-attack made by a small formation of Somua S35 tanks was seen as critical by the Germans. For this division, there was of course the absence of tracer shells and the fact that grossly all the Hotchkiss tanks of the 3e DLM had 37mm SA18 L/21 guns with only poor anti-tank efficiency. It is a miracle that they could fight so well against the elite Panzerwaffe in Hannut. They had better tanks (considering the armor and the armament of the Somua S35 tanks) than most of the German crews but mostly with crews lacking training.
To actually hit a Panzer with the 1-man turret would prove to be difficult for the 3e DLM : German tanks were fast, training insufficient and tracer shells absent in the tanks ... But on the German side, the situation was not very good as well : apart from the 7.5cm L/24 gun of the Panzer IV, no German shell could pierce the Somua S35 and the Hotchkiss H39 at a comfortable range, they had to move to close range. German tankers went to duel the French Somua S35 tanks at long range (around 800 to 1000m) with both sides using too many rounds for nothing but the 47mm L/32 SA35 gun of the Somua S35 was able to destroy the German tanks at this range unlike the German ones. The 4x gunsight of the Somua tanks was also adapted for such long range targeting. Even counterattacks led by 10 Somua S35 tanks were viewed as critical on the German side … The French would trade tanks for time. During the battle, the advancing German tanks were very often attacked on the flanks and the rear by the French tanks. The French tactics are therefore probably not that bad as often depicted.
All along the battle, the French troops launched many counter-attacks despite being massively attacked by the Luftwaffe. The German colonel Neuman wrote : "the admirable tenacity of the French troops, which did not loose an inch of ground, despite heavy losses left the battle indecisive. General Hoepner didn't know the real strength of its opponent and the location of the core of the enemy armored forces."
The losses are heavy on both sides. The French lost 105 tanks (75 Hotchkiss H35/H39 and 30 Somua S35 tanks) and the Germans about 164 tanks, mainly due to the action of the Somua S35 tanks (despite being often manned by crews lacking experience) but also several because of the Hotchkiss tanks or because of the infantry strongpoints including AT guns and AT mines. Concerning the French tank losses a good part was probably destroyed by the Luftwaffe and not at all by German tanks. A high proportion of the 75 Hotchkiss tanks was destroyed by enemy fire. A significant number of the 30 lost Somua S35 tanks is due to drivers' mistakes or mechanical breakdowns. Noteworthy here is nevertheless the 100% better survival rate of the more powerful Somua S35 tank compared to the Hotchkiss H39. Concerning the French infantry, the 11e RDP is reduced to 1 operational battalion.
In tank battles, the one who hold the ground in the end has a tremendous advantage. Belgian civilians still remember that after the battle, German field workshops would work during the night to repair some of the tanks that were knocked out during the battle.
3 officers will be important during the next part of the war : colonel Leyer, future commander of the 4e DLM in June 1940, will be in 1942 in North-Africa one of the main actors of the creation of the French armored arm. Colonel Touzet du Vigier and colonel de Vernejoul will both command an armoured division for the liberation of France.
1.2 The battle of Gembloux (14th-15th May 1940)
The resistance of the cavalry corps allowed the deployment of the 1e DM (general Mellier) and the 15e DIM (general Juin) around Gembloux, on a front of 12 km. Note that during this battle each division had to defend a 5-7 km front as intended for a French infantry division instead of 20-30 km for the infantry divisions around Sedan. The tanks of the cavalry corps were still involved on 14th May and the artillery of the cavalry corps reinforced the French units at Gembloux. In Gembloux, the French infantry/artillery couple will face with success the German Panzer/Luftwaffe couple of the Blitzkrieg.
The Gembloux gap is a wide rural plain with numerous towns, big farms and several woods. In the center there is Gembloux, a little industrial city of 500 habitants. It is an important communication nest with 2 important roads and 2 important railroads. The Bruxelles-Namur railroad which is grossly perpendicular to the axis of the German attack is used as main defensive line as well as the town of Ernage and the city of Gembloux. The terrain is nevertheless favorable to a tank attack and the skies are Luftwaffe has the air superiority. The French weakness was in the air. The French 1st army had only the remains of one group of 26 fighters, one reconnaissance group and the observation squadrons of the corps as well as 3 modern spotter planes for each DLM against the hundreds of bombers and fighters of the Germans.
The 1e DM and the 15e DIM have travelled 150 km before reaching Gembloux. They have complete men strength and are well equipped with AT guns and a strong field artillery. The French troops are nevertheless lacking AA guns to face the German air force, despite the fact that the 1e DM and 15e DIM are among the divisions reinforced with 20mm Oerlikon AA guns, respectively with 6 and 12 AA guns. Some French 75mm Mle1897 field guns were also firing time-fuzed shells in the air to simulate an AA barrage against the German aircrafts, to compensate the lack of AA means. These 2 divisions are supported by the 13e BCC (45 Hotchkiss H35) and the 35e BCC (45 Renault R35). Morale in the units of the French 1st army was high, like in the cavalry corps, based on the soldiers' confidence in their equipment and their leaders. During the battla of Gembloux, general Mellier and general Juin didn't hesitate to join the French first lines to support the morale of their troops.
Hoepner's XVI. Panzerkorps (3.PzD and 4.PzD) will led the attack against Gembloux. In addition, Hoepner disposed of the 20. ID (mot) and 35. ID during the battle of Gembloux : 4 German divisions against 2 French ones.
To Hoepner's right, the IV. Korps (general Schwedler) had the 31. ID, the 7.ID and the 18.ID, from north to south. It is important to remember that these divisions with their thousands of horses moved primarily by muscles power unlike the Panzerkorps. The Germans counted above all on their Luftwaffe to provide fire superiority over the French troops.
14th May 1940
At 14h00, after a strong artillery and air preparation, the German tanks and infantry assault the French troops. Numerous tanks are hit by the French AT guns. The AT guns emplacements are well chosen, camouflaged and AT mines have been laid in front of them. There are fake positions to attract the Germans and the 25mm SA34/37 L/72 AT gun is very difficult to spot because of its flash hider. Both French and German testimonies indicate the difficulty to spot them. German brigade general Kühne noted : "The accuracy of the 25mm SA34/37 is very good. The front hull armor of the Panzer III has been easily penetrated by the excellent French 25mm SA34/37 gun. Trials with booty guns proved that the French 25mm AT gun is superior to the German 3.7cm PaK. This 25mm AT gun is very hard to spot because the flash is invisible." The French AT gunner Louis Brindejonc (2e RTM = 2e Régiment de Tirailleurs Marocains, of the 1e DM) illustrates himself by destroying 7 German tanks including one command tank of a German colonel. On its side, the Ftrench 47mm SA37 L/53 is the best AT gun on the battlefield in 1940, after the 8.8cm FlaK used in AT role. It exceeded widely the German 3.7cm PaK in terms of penetration and was also superior to the Czech made 4.7cm AT gun.
General Juin, commander of the 15e DIM (who will led the 120,000 soldiers of the French expeditionary corps in Italy in 1943-1944) delays the use of its artillery to avoid to hit the last elements of the 2e DLM engaged in delaying combats in front of his positions. Once these tanks safe, all the artillery is engaged massively against the German tank concentrations. In a few minutes, 6 batteries (24 guns) of the 1st artillery regiment fired 432 75mm shells on the Buis woods used a command post by the 3.PzD thanks to the high rate of fire of the 75mm Mle1897 field guns. General Stever, commander of the 4.PzD, is wounded by an artillery fire in his HQ. The Germans, using radio actively and without coding the transmission, are listened too by the French troops who are rapidly localizing several command centers. At the same moment general Breith, commander of a German tank brigade, is wounded in his command tank which is hit by a French 47mm AT gun.
In Gembloux, the French artillery proved to be very efficient and very precise, stopping many German assaults, firing on each German concentration, destroying many tanks and silencing the German artillery by counter-battery fires. Perfectly camouflaged, the batteries remained often undiscovered despite the German spotting planes. The German artillery and the Luftwaffe were unable to neutralize the French artillery. The Germans were often too self-confident and caught on their positions by French counter-battery fire. The German 10.5cm leFH fired a heavier shell at longer range than the 75mm Mle1897 but could never match the high rate of fire of the French light field gun. The French divisions had also 105mm guns and the support of army artillery units with 155mm guns.
The French artillery was very efficient in 1940 and it seems to have been often superior to the German artillery : quick reacting, with a high rate of fire and very accurate. On the German side, the logistics and sometimes the mobility were probably better organized but they often went in combat with insufficient ammunition supplies. In Gembloux the French infantry/artillery couple is opposed to the German tanks/aviation couple and will prove to be successful. Strong artillery will also show to be the king of the battle during the second part of World War 2.
In the area of the 1e DM, the action of the 64th artillery regiment results in the same effect. The 5. Panzerbrigade is forced to withdraw under dense and very precise artillery fire and to go under cover. During the battle of Gembloux, about 50 German tanks are destroyed by the French artillery including 32 German tanks from the Pz.Rgt.35 (colonel Eberbach) : 9 PzI, 9 PzII, 6 PzIII and 8 PzIV. With about 30 tanks lost in Hannut against the French tanks, this regiment will loose grossly 50% of its tank strength during these days.
Due to the events in the area of Sedan the 2e DLM and 3e DLM of the cavalry corps are rapidly removed from the Gemboux area and sent south to face new threats.
15th May 1940
The German attack on 15th May faces the same fierce resistance. The main German effort is conducted against the 1e DM where the terrain is more in favour of the use of tanks. German tanks attacking the 4e RI (infantry regiment) of the 15e DIM near Beuzet are destroyed by 25mm and 47mm AT guns.
Between Gembloux and Perbais the battle lasts from daybreak to the night with fierce combats around Ernage. The Germans manage to take two towns (Ernage and Perbais) but they don't manage to pierce the French lines. From the 1st battalion of the 7e RTM (Régiment de Tirailleurs Marocains) in Ernage, 2 companies are totally destroyed. From the 700 men of the battalion only 74 men are still alive on 16th May.
The 13e BCC (45 Hotchkiss H35 tanks) and the 35e BCC (45 Renault R35 tanks) are used to launch counter-attacks on the Gembloux-Ernage railroad, forcing the Germans to retreat. The 7e RTM in a perfect illustration of the famous "furia francese" launched a bayonet charge against astonished German troops. The French front didn't collapse despite all the German supports and heavy assaults. During 2 days, the Luftwaffe tried without success to neutralize the French artillery. It is a Pyrrhic tactical/operational victory for the French troops but the German made a breakthrough in Sedan during the same time.
North of the Gembloux gap, on the Dyle River there is also a battle. On 15th May Louvain is captured by the Germans to the BEF but a vigorous British counter-attack enables to take the city back.
In the area of Ottiginies, south of Wavre, the bridge could not be blown away. The French 2e DINA (general Dame) is deployed on the railroad on the western bank of the Dyle River. The division has to stop repeated assault of the 18.ID supported by the Luftwaffe. The main German effort is against Ottignies but is each time defeated by a very dense and precise French artillery fire. During all the morning the German assaults are stopped thanks to the artillery. The main attack is shifted from Ottignies to Limal to try to cut the French division in 2. Once again a very bloody and well adjusted artillery fire slaughters the German troops. Thanks to a strong discipline and courage, the German soldiers manage nevertheless to cross the Dyle River but the German advance is cancelled due to the heavy losses.
1.3 Conclusion after the battles of Hannut-Gembloux (12th-15th May 1940)
During 2 days the 3e DLM (and the 2e DLM) managed to stop 2 Panzerdivisionen and to inflict them heavy losses in Hannut. It is an incontestable tactical/operational success. The single mission of general Prioux was to resist enough to delay the German advance during 2 days. This mission was completely fulfilled. Of course, today we know that the German attack in Belgium had the aim to attract the allied troops in a trap but the XVI. Panzerkorps was not simulating its combats and the losses are real. According to Gunsburg, Hoepner had actually the order to pierce the French line in Gembloux, in which he failed. The 2 Panzerdivision supported by 2 infantry divisions were again blocked in Gembloux, by 2 French infantry divisions this time. On the overall strategic level of course the allies failed in May 1940 but Hannut and Gembloux are French undisputable tactical successes over the German army. Despite a numeric superiority and heavy aerial support, the advantage of the radio sets in their faster tanks etc. the Germans failed in face of the French cavalry corps and the 1st army which were devoid of aerial support.
After Hannut and Gembloux the losses are heavy on both sides. The I/2e RTM is reduced to 74 men out of 700 men initially. On the German side the 12th rifle regiment (4.PzD) has lost 30% of its officers. The 1st battalion of this regiment is left with 4 officers and 31 men operational from an initial complement that should have exceeded 700 men. The 3rd rifle regiment (3.PzD) has lost 15 officers and 184 men.
In Hannut some 164 German tanks were knocked out and in Gembloux the French artillery alone destroyed about 50 German tanks, including 32 in the Pz.Rgt.35. On 15th May, the 4.PzD had only 137 operational available tanks left (including only 4 Panzer IV) from its 331 tanks. So there were 194 tanks damaged, under recovery/repair or destroyed after the battles of Hannut and Gembloux. Only 41 % operational tanks.
On 16th May :
• the 4.PzD had about 55% operational tanks = 182 available tanks. Therefore 45 extra operational tanks than on 15th May. But 149 tanks remained unavailable, this number is including destroyed tanks and tanks in the repair workshops.
• the 3.PzD had 75% operational tanks. Therefore about 85 tanks are still destroyed or in the repair workshops one day after the battles.
On 16th May 1940, one day after the battles, 234 tanks (35% of the tanks) were not operational anymore, including an unknown number of definitively destroyed tanks. General Hoepner estimated that he was unable to continue efficiently the combats the next day. The Germans repaired probably some more of their tanks during the later days or weeks while the French could not recover the 105 tanks they had left in Hannut.
The assault of 2 Panzerdivisionen supported by 2 infantry divisions have been stopped on an improvised line by 2 French infantry divisions. The French battles of Hannut and Gembloux are a French success without future. On 15th May evening, the French 1st army, although undefeated, is ordered to move back due to the collapse of the 9th army on the Meuse in the area of Sedan on 13th May. This situation endangers greatly the right flank of the 1st army. The French troops will move back and deploy between Arras, Valenciennes and Tournai.
Some historians have credited the Wehrmacht with an unusual capacity for professional self-criticism, a key to victory. But Gembloux was a case where the German high command refused to recognize the lesson of the limitations of mechanized attack against a conventional defense. The 6th army was to relearn that lesson in the hardest way at Stalingrad.
General von Bechtolsheim and captain von Jungenfeld judged the French deplyment in Hannut as very linear and the French units as poorly mobile. This was repeated by Henrich Bücheler, Hermann Zimmerman and B.H. Liddel Hart in 1949 but is rather in opposition with the memories of general Prioux and the books of Genotte and Sarton.
Indeed, the deployment of the cavalry corps is rather linear, because it is a defensive deployment and because it is clearly on a north to south axis. But it is for sure an in-depth organization with infantry strongpoints supported by tank squadrons ready to counter-attack between the infantry hedgehogs ; and a whole tank regiment in reserve.
It seems indeed poorly mobile because the 2e DLM could have been far much engaged against the XVI. Panzerkorps instead of staying south of the 3e DLM. But, one has to be coherent and remember the context. For the French units this German attack was the main one, not a trap as we know it today. They knew that the German had 8 extra Panzerdivisionen available somewhere. They did not know how many more Panzerdivisionen were to be engaged in that battle. The 2e DLM could have been surprised on its flanks by 1 extra Panzerdivision.
The 3e DLM accomplished the mission completely and has delayed the 2 German armored divisions for required time. It inflicted heavy losses since 164 German tanks were knocked out.
Captain Jugenfeld judged probably not the mobility of the French tanks by themselves (although for sure the German tanks are faster) but the mobility of the French tank units. The French tanks launched many counter-attacks but indeed they also fought several times in rather static positions. They tried to used hull down emplacements at medium/long range to engage more numerous German tanks and meticulously fired at them from a safe position. They had not necessarily the need to move or they would probably have lost their advantage. They took advantage of the terrain to fulfil their mission. If engaged all the time in a pure mobile and melee-style combat, without sufficient radio sets and 1-man turrets, against more numerous enemy tanks, they would probably have lost more than 105 tanks.
The good armor and the powerful 47mm L/32 SA35 of the Somua S35 tank coupled to a 4x gunsight made it able to engage safely German tanks at 800-1000m. At this range it was grossly impossible for a German tank to destroy the Somua S35. The Somua S35 proved capable of continue to fight after having received up to about 40 German hits but every German tanks were easily penetrated by the 47mm SA35 gun. Firing on the German tanks from a well chosen position was a better solution for the French tankers than to be engaged in a melee at close range with a 1-man turret, especially for the inexperienced 3e DLM and especially because as explained most of the Somua S35 tanks of this units had only 2 crew members instead of 3. Captain von Jugenfeld probably judged the French tank units with his views of German tankers, for who the main advantages are speed and tactical regulation thanks to the radio. The French tanks were used in an other way to exploit their own advantages. They proved to be rather successful according to the German losses, and unlike the German side without heavy air support or the use of powerful 8.8cm FlaK in AT role.
The French deployment was aimed on defense and counter-attacks and the German one was focused on the offensive, it was not a complete meeting engagement.
2. THE 1e DLM IN THE NETHERLANDS
While the 2e DLM and 3e DLM are engaged in Belgium with the 1st army, the 1e DLM (general Picard) has to fulfil a similar mission in the Netherlands for the 7th army. The French 7th army has to deploy between Breda and Turnhout but this line was rather far away from the starting line in France. The 1e DLM was to move first, to provide intelligence and reconnaissance for the 7th army and to establish contacts with the Belgian and Dutch armies. Its mission was then to delay the German troops long enough to allow the 25e DIM (general Molinié) and the 9e DIM (general Didelet) to occupy the position on the Marck River.
The 1e DLM will have to face the XVIII. Armee (general von Kuchler) including the 9.PzD (general Hubrig) and the 1. Kavallerie Division. The 9.PzD has to cross the Meuse River, to reach Tirlburg and to take Breda. It will then be split in two groups :
• a first group reinforced by the SS Verfügung (mot) division
• a second group reinforced by the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH) regiment and 2 airborne troops battalions of the VII. Fliegerdivision with the mission to take Rotterdam
The Dutch troops concentrated their 25 armored cars, strong infantry and AA elements around their airfields. They inflicted significant losses to the airborne German operation. The Luftwaffe lost about 300 aircrafts in the Netherlands due to the allied air forces but also because some 220 Junkers Ju52 transport planes were destroyed, mainly on the ground by artillery fire.
10th May 1940
The 1e DLM will be supported by 2 reconnaissance groups :
• one with the 2e GRCA and the 5e GRDI under command of lieutenant-colonel Lestoquoi, which will operate with the 1e DLM
• one with the 2e GRDI, 12e GRDI and 27e GRDI under command of colonel Beauchesne, which will operate independently
Nevertheless this reconnaissance units are reduced, only the motorized elements are used, the horse mounted elements being to slow. All these reconnaissance groups include motorcycle platoons. The 2e GRDI is the reconnaissance group of the 9e DIM and includes also 13 Panhard 178 armored cars and 13 Hotchkiss H39 tanks. The 5e GRDI is the reconnaissance group of the 25e DIM and includes 13 Panhard 178 armored cars and 13 Hotchkiss H35 tanks.
The reconnaissance regiment of the 1e DLM is the 6e RC (Régiment de Cuirassiers), commanded by colonel Dario, with about 40 Panhard 178 armored cars. It is reinforced by the Lestoquoi group (2e GRCA and 5e GRDI). Together, they cross the Belgian border at 10h30 and reach the Albert canal east of Anvers during afternoon. They move beyond Turnhout during the night. The tanks of the 1e DLM arrive by train around Oosmalle, 15 km west of Turnhout.
11th May 1940
At 4h15, the first French troops are landing on the Walcheren and Zuid Beveland islands (Zeeland islands) during operation F (F as Flessingue) : the 224e RI (infantry regiment) of the 68e DI, supported by 1 group (12 75mm Mle1897 field guns) of the 89e RA. The transport ships are escorted by 7 torpedo ships.
The reconnaissance elements reach Breda, Tilburg and Eindhoven. 400 German paratroops held the Moerdjik bridge next to Breda. They have occupied the previously Dutch fortifications and are equipped with MGs, mortars AT rifles and AT guns. 1 Panhard 178 platoon (5 armored cars) and 2 motorcycle platoons are ordered to prevent the Germans to move towards Breda which is the final objective of the 1e DLM. They block the Germans with the help of Dutch infantry units.
Motorized German elements are moving north-east of Tilburg and skirmish with French advanced elements. One German tank is destroyed. Around 21h00, detachment Dudognon (Panhard 178 armored cars from the 6e RC) defend the Moergestel bridge over the Reussel River. At 23h00, 3 German armored cars accompanied by 3 side-cars and a truck full of troops appear. Maréchal-des-logis (NCO rank) Gaulthier recalls : "the leading 2 German armored cars do not see me and head for the Panhard 178 "La Varende". The first German armored car crushes 2 of our side-cars and barely dodges the "La Varende" (tearing off a mudguard on the way) and crashes into a cement pole. The second German armored car (an 8-wheeled Sd.Kfz.231 probably) stops to my left and opens fire. Meanwhile the third German armored car turns out in front of me on the bridge. I open fire with my 25mm SA35 gun and I hit it square on. The German armored cars rolls for several extra meters before stopping to my right. At the same time, the explosive charges placed under the bridge explode as the German truck is on the bridge. I was in the turret so the deflagration stunned me and I fell inside. When I recovered and went back to the hatch I saw the second German armored car still firing on my left. I pivoted the turret and fired point blank with both the main gun and MG (with AP bullets). It quickly ceased firing. The whole action only lasted a quarter of an hour. The enemy lost around 20 dead and drowned. The 6e Cuirrasiers detachment has captured 4 men including 2 wounded. The three German armored cars whose motors cannot be started again are scuttled as well as a German side-car. Two more intact BMW side-cars will replace the 2 that were crushed and we used them up to Dunkirk." The French troops had only a few lightly wounded men.
The 2e GRCA deploys in Breda and the 5e GRDI is in Tilburg after the loss of 1 armored car in an ambush. The infantry of the 1e DLM is deployed on the Reussel River between Tilburg and Turnhout, north-west of the Belgian 18th infantry division. The deployment would be satisfactory but the Belgian and Dutch troops retreat rapidly and the 1e DLM is suddenly alone to face the German troops. The Belgian army abandoned a triangle formed by 3 canals (Turnhout, Campines and Albert). The right flank is completely unprotected and German troops are infiltrating. Tilburg, Breda, Turnhout and Oostmalle are bombed by the Luftwaffe.
12th May 1940
The 9.PzD has crossed the Meuse River at Gennep and moves towards Breda. The French reconnaissance elements retreats to the Wortel – Merxplas – Turnhout – Desschel line after having skirmished with German armored elements. The movement of the 7th army towards Breda is cancelled to reconstitute a continuous front after the retreat of the Belgian army on the Berg op Zoom – Anvers line. The 25e DIM is deploying in Wortel. The infantry of the 1e DLM and Belgian troops are in contact with the enemy on the Turnhout canal and are reinforced by the 9e DIM on 13th May only. The pressure of the 9.PzD is increasing in the area of Turnhout and a German infantry division crosses the canal but cannot advance more.
13th May 1940
the 1e DLM is strongly attacked by the Luftwaffe and the 9.PzD. Movements through the Anvers tunnel are delayed because Dutch employees in charge of the air intake went on strike !
General Picard launches 2 Hotchkiss squadrons of the 18e RD (42 tanks) in a counter-attack against the German troops who managed to cross the Tunhout canal. The objectives are Moll and the bridges on the Turnhout canal. An other canal has to be crossed and only one, 8 meters long, engineered bridge enables the crossing of tanks but only the lighter ones. The Somua S35 tanks cannot be engaged. 1 German battalion is forced to retreat from Moll but the bridges are strongly defended by AT guns and infantry. Without infantry the French attack cannot go on. Several German AT guns are destroyed or crushed and the enemy infantry sustained losses. Several French tanks are damaged but only when engaged at close range. At the end of the day, receiving no infantry support to open the way, the French tanks have to move back.
The French troops in the Walcheren and Zuid Beveland islands are reinforced by the 271e RI, motorized elements of the 68e GRDI and 1 engineer company.
14th May 1940
The 1e DLM is attacked south of Berg op Zoom and defeats the Germans. Because of the context of the German breakthrough in Sedan and the very advanced position of the French 7th army and of the 1e DLM, the French troops are ordered to retreat towards Anvers. The 9e DIM and the 25e DIM are sent to the south to reinforce the French 1st army.
During this day 1 tank battalion of the 9.PzD, reinforced by German infantry, AT guns and supported by artillery fire encircles and destroys the 12e GRDI and several armored cars of the 6e RC in Berg op Zoom, west of Tilburg.
15th May 1940
Rotterdam and La Haye have been captured by the Germans. On 15th May, the Dutch army capitulates.
The 1e DLM is deployed in the area of Kontich and begins to move back at 21h00. The 1e DLM will fight hard delaying combats. In one week the division moved on more than 600 km, managing to defeat all the German encirclement attempts before being trapped around Dunkirk.
A strong German attack is launched against the French troops still in the Zeeland islands. The French 271e RI is in Zuid Beveland and the French 224e RI is in Walcheren. The French troops are completely cut from the 7th army, encircled by German troops and the 224e RI is a B reserve regiment. The 271e RI launches a counter attack but without success. The regiment is destroyed, only 300 survivors retreat to the island of Walcheren.
Walcheren is defended by the 224e RI supported by 1 group (12 75mm Mle1897 field guns) of the 89e RA and the remains of the 271e RI who are completely demoralized. These troops are nevertheless supported by the fire of the French torpedo boats and by several Loire-Nieuport LN.411 dive bombers of the French fleet air arm. The canal between Wlacheren and Zuid Beveland is a poor defense since it is completely dry at low water. The French troops will resist until 17th May.
17th May 1940
The torpedo boat "Cyclone" fires 80 shells of 130mm on the main road of Zuid Beveland where German troops are concentrating. It is replaced by the "Siroco" and later by the British ships "Wolsey" and "Vimiera". During the same time, the 12 guns of the 89e RA fires 3000 shells of 75mm. Nevertheless this doest not prevent the Germans to cross the little canal separating the 2 islands, mainly thanks to the support of the Luftwaffe.
The French defense collapses and the troops have to retreat slowly to the harbour of Flessingue to be evacuated. General Deslaurens is killed in Flessingue while fighting, a carbine in his hands. Most of the French troops are embarked by the French navy but operation F is a failure. The general commanding the operation has been killed, the 271e RI doesn’t exist anymore as operational unit and 2 battalions of the 224e RI have been captured. The 12 guns of the 89e RA group have been destroyed or scuttled. Concerning the navy it proved able to land and embark troops under heavy German air attacks, only 1 British ship was sunk.