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I'm trying to trace the actions between the vanguard of the 2 and 7 Pz and the Chasseurs Ardennais on 10 and 11 may 1940 so does anyone has a good account of the engagements at Strainchamps, Montleban and Chabrehez or at least post a brief for me?
Did the 10 Pz engage elements of the 1 Chass. Ardennais?
Thanks in advance and regards. Tigre.
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I am trying to write something in English about the battles in Luxembourd, in the Ardennes, on the Meuse River and 15km south of Sedan (Stonne, Le Chesne, Tannay etc.) from 10th to 24th May 1940.
Since we are talking here about the Ardennes I thought I could share what I have compiled so far although it doesn't completely reply to you inquiry.
BATTLES IN THE ARDENNES, ON THE MEUSE RIVER AND IN THE MONT-DIEU AREA (10-25th May 1940)
For Fall Gelb, on 10th May 1940, the main German forces attack in an unexpected place, the Ardennes. These troops include 7 armored divisions (1762 tanks) and 3 motorized infantry division which are concentrated on a small front. They push on almost without concern for their flanks, leaving the cleaning up to the classical infantry divisions which follow. The southern flank of the attack is protected by the 16.Armee (Busch), which enters in the Luxembourg. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe attacks as support for the Panzers and the infantry.
During the same time a large faked attack is undertaken by the German troops :
in the Netherlands : including the 9.PzD (153 tanks), the 1. Kavallerie Division, the SS Verfügung (mot.) division, the SS Totenkopf (mot.) division, the SS "Der Führer" regiment and the SS "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" regiment
in central Belgium : including the 3.PzD and 4.PzD (674 tanks), moving towards the Gembloux gap
Airborne troops (paratroopers and glider troops), commandos and special assault engineers are used to secure important points, to capture bridges or to rapidly neutralize fortifications like the Belgian fort of Eben Emael.
The German forces had been reorganized after the campaign in Poland (Fall Weiss) :
- At the eve of Fall Gelb there are 155 German divisions available (136 engaged), including 2 Waffen-SS motorized divisions instead of 105 divisions (63 engaged) in September 1939. The Leichten-Divisionen have been transformed into Panzerdivisionen. The armored units were better armed (more tanks were armed with 3.7cm and 7.5cm guns (16% - 452 tanks - in 1939 and 36% - 955 tanks - in 1940) and also better armored (for example more Panzer IV Ausf. A/B in Poland and more Panzer IV Ausf.C/D in France, more early and lightly armored Panzer III in Poland and more Panzer III E/F in France).
- The 3. and 4. Wellen Infanterie Divisionen from the Polish campaign were largely improved, younger men were enlisted and the equipment was modernized. In 1940, 15 of these divisions were frontline units.
- The chain of command is less centralized and more flexible whereas in Poland the command structures were very traditional. Add to that the important communication means (many radio sets), a well organized logistics and you have a powerful army.
- The German tactics with good inter-arms cooperation (tank / aircraft couple, close air support provided by the Ju87s and Hs123s, omnipresent tactical air reconnaissance) were not mature in Poland but they are ready for Fall Gelb.
A complete new HQ and ad-hoc structure is created with Gruppe Kleist for the initial phase of Fall Gelb. It includes 3 motorized army corps, regrouping 5 armored divisions and 3 motorized infantry divisions, directed towards the Ardennes. Unlike in Poland, the mechanized elements are well concentrated and have a real strategic role. They are well supported by the VIII.Fliegerkorps concentrating all the 300 Ju87 dive bombers and 42 Hs123 assault biplanes. The 5.PzD and 7.PzD of the XV.Armee Korps (mot.) are only several kilometers north of Gruppe Kleist. Therefore 7 Panzerdivisonen are concentrated against the weak area of the Ardennes. In the area of Sedan, 1500 aircrafts are concentrated on a small area to support the German attack. It is the very first time in History that such armored and air support forces are concentrated on such a small area.
During the initial phase of Fall Gelb, the Germans used also extensively airborne troops (paratroopers and glider troops) and commandos (in German uniforms, in allied uniforms or in civilian clothes – Brandenburger commandos, assault engineers or elite infantry of the "Grossdeutschland" regiment etc.). Such a concentration of commandos and airborne troops having a real strategic role is probably also a first time in History.
--> For all these reasons, the 1940 western campaign can be seen as the best example of the so-called Blitzkrieg.
On 10th May the French and British troops launch the Dyle-Breda operation, to meet what is thought as the German main effort in Belgium and in the Netherlands. The French 7th Army with the 1e DLM moves to the Netherlands and French troops land also by ships in the Zeeland islands. The BEF and the French 1st Army with the French cavalry corps (2e DLM and 3e DLM) enters in central Belgium. The French 1st Army will secure the Gembloux gap and the cavalry corps will meet the XVI.Panzerkorps (3.PzD and 4.PzD – Hoepner) at Hannut, 30 km in front of Gembloux, for the first big tank battle of WW2.
1. The German advance in the Ardennes (10th – 12th May 1940)
The Heeresgruppe A (Rundstedt) is launched on 10th May 1940n towards the Meuse River. It will cross Luxembourg, advance in Belgium and France through the Ardennes and reach the Meuse River on 12th May.
Heeresgruppe A reserves
--> The spearhead is composed of the fast troops from Gruppe Kleist (and the 2 Panzerdivisionen of the 4.Armee)
XIV. Armee Korps (mot.) (Wietersheim)
o 13.ID (mot.)
o 29.ID (mot.)
XIX. Panzerkorps (Guderian)
o "Grossdeutschland" infantry regiment
XXXXI. Panzerkorps (Reinhardt)
o 2.ID (mot.)
Heeresgruppe A is therefore composed of 37 German divisions, including 7 armored divisions and 3 motorized infantry divisions. All the attached elements at the level of the army or army corps are not listed here.
Heeresgruppe A contains, among other elements :
- 1762 tanks in the 7 Panzerdivisionen
- About 550 armored cars (392 in the 7 PzD, 78 in the 3 motorized infantry divisions and about 80 in the remaining infantry divisions)
- 6 8.8cm FlaK (Sfl) auf Sd.Kfz.8 (1./s.Pz.Jg.Abt.8, attached to 1.PzD)
- 30 15cm sIG.33 auf PzI
- 18 Sturmgeschütz III
- Probably all the 99 Panzerjäger I (???)
--> 2465 AFVs concentrated against the weak allied forces in the Ardennes
This mighty German force is concentrated against the weak allied forces in the Ardennes :
Belgian army in the Ardennes (general Keyaerts)
- 1e Division de Chasseurs Ardennais (including 3 T15 and 48 T13 at full strength)
- 1e Division de Cavalerie (including 8 T15 and 18 T13 at full strength)
- 1e Guides
- 2e Lanciers
- 3e Chasseurs à Cheval
- 1 motorcycle battalion from VIIth Army Corps
- 3rd cycle regiment
--> 11 T15 light tanks with a 13.2mm HMG and 66 T13 self-propelled AT guns with a 47mm L/33.6 SA-FRC gun, but the Belgian army used them dispersed in groups of 2-4 AFVs
On the front of the French 9th Army
- the 61e DI and 102e DIF are deployed in France on the Meuse River
- the 5e DIM, 18e DI and 22e DI enters in Belgium to deploy on the Meuse River
- the 4e DLC and the 1e DLC, as well as the 3e BS are sent in Belgium to delay the Germans
- the 4e DINA will only be engaged on 13-14th May
On the front of the French 2nd Army
- the 55e DI and the 3e DINA defend the Meuse River, the 71e DI is deployed between the 55e DI and the 3e DINA on 13th May only
- the 5e DLC, 2e DLC and the 1e BC are sent in Belgium to delay the Germans
- other troops available in the 2nd Army are the 3e DIC, the 41e DI and the 1e DIC
On the front of the French 3rd Army the 3e DLC supported by the 1e BS enter in Luxembourg
Each of the French DLC includes about 7,800 men, 2,000 horses and 2,100 vehicles :
- 1 divisional HQ
- 1 cavalry brigade of 2 cavalry regiments (horse mounted) (including 8 25mm AT guns)
- 1 light motorized brigade (BLM = Brigade Légère Motorisée) with :
--o a RAM (Régiment d’Auto-Mitrailleuses = armored cars regiment) including 13 Hotchkiss H35 tanks and 12 Panhard 178 (+1 radio car)
--o a RDP (Régiment de Dragons Portés = mechanized cavalry regiment) of 2 battalions including 5 motorcycle platoons, 8 25mm AT guns and 23 AMR33 / AMR35 ZT1
- 1 divisional AT squadron (EDAC = Escadron Divisionnaire Anti-Char) with 12 25mm AT guns
- 1 divisional repair and recovery squadron
- 1 motorized artillery regiment (12 75mm Mle1897 and 12 105mm C with all-terrain tractors)
- 1 motorized AT battery (BDAC = Batterie Divisionnaire Anti-Char) with 8 47mm SA37 AT guns
- 1 motorized engineer company (sapeurs-mineurs company)
- 1 mixed signals company
- 1 HQ horse-drawn transport company
- 1 HQ motor transport company
- 1 divisional quartermaster group
- 1 divisional medical group
Each DLC had therefore :
13x Hotchkiss H35 tanks (generally armed with the 37mm SA18 gun)
23x AMR light tanks armed with 7.5mm or 13.2mm MGs
12x armored cars (25mm SA35 gun)
28x 25mm AT guns
8x 47mm AT guns
24x field guns (the 1e DLC had 24 105mm C field guns)
no AA guns, except 8mm Mle1914 Hotchkiss HMGs used as AAMGs
--> 48 AFVs
As a comparison, a German Panzerdivision had about :
56 armored cars
36 field guns (24 105mm and 12 150mm guns)
24 7.5cm leIG (infantry guns)
8 15cm sIG (heavy infantry guns)
51x 3.7cm PaK (AT guns)
9x 8.8cm FlaK (AA/AT guns)
24x 3.7cm and 2.0cm FlaK (AA guns)
6 15cm sIG.33 auf PzI (self-propelled heavy infantry guns) attached to the division
18-27 Panzerjäger I (self-propelled AT guns) attached to the division
sometime 6 StuG III attached to the division
--> 312-410 AFVs
The 5 DLC were spread all over the front and the motorized and horse-mounted units were also often separated for each DLC during the action. Anyway, all these 5 DLC together would represent only 65 Hotchkiss tanks. If all the allied AFVs in the Ardennes are counted there are 240 French + 77 Belgian = 317 AFVs, which have to delay 2465 German AFVs concentrated in the Ardennes (1 vs 8).
1.1 First combats in Luxembourg
The XVI.Armee (Busch) enters in Luxembourg to protect the left flank of the German Panzerdivisionen against the 3e DLC (general Petiet) and the 1e BS (general Jouffrault).
The 1e BS is reinforced by several elements :
- 1 Hotchkiss H35 tank platoon (5 tanks) from the 3e DLC
- several 25mm AT guns from the divisional AT squadron from the 3e DLC
- 61e GRDI
- 25e GRCA
- 1 battery of the 46e RA (4 75mm Mle1897 guns)
- 2 cycle companies provided by the 51e DI and the 58e DI, each with 4 rifle platoons and 1 weapons platoons (2 Hotchkiss Mle1914 MGs, 2 mortars and 1 37mm infantry gun)
Before the war, whole buses of German officers in civilian clothes went to Luxembourg to study the terrain and to observe the French troops on the border. Weapons and ammunition dumps were prepared in Luxembourg to arm pro-German militia and German commandos in civilian clothes were deployed in the cities along the French border.
On 10th May 1940, at 4h30, 25 Fi156 aircrafts transported 125 German commandos (lieutenant Werner Hedderich) in 3 waves. This commando organized sabotages and guerrilla actions to delay the French troops.
Anyway, the French troops moved later as planned and entered only about 6 kilometers deep into Luxembourg before meeting elements of the XVI.Armee. The battle is engaged on a large plateau delimited by a cliff. There are several hills like Zolverknapp, which dominates the plateau at 100-150 meters high. There are numerous woods and villages and industrial buildings around Esch-sur-Alzette.
The first serious encounter for the 3e DLC takes place at Esch-sur-Alzette. German commandos, armed civilians and German infantry are faced. 45 German soldiers are captured.
The 1e BS takes several towns to the Germans like Soleuvre and Niederkorn. There are also heavy combats in Limpach. The French soldiers prove that they are not at all inferior to the enemy. The Moroccan Spahis are difficult to impress and are skilled riflemen. For example, the platoon of lieutenant d'Almont (including 1 officer, 35 men, 3 FM 24/29 LMGs, 1 SMG, 2 VB launcher and 40 horses) has to assault several houses on the road of Sanem, defended by about 30 German soldiers. They advance smoothly and rapidly in small groups, from one cover to an other. The French platoon assaults and captures the enemy position. They have lost 3 horses and 3 men are WIA. On the German side 16 men are KIA and 13 men are POW. One gun (infantry gun or AT gun) was captured as well as several MGs and side-cars.
From 10th to 11th May, the 1e BS had lost :
- 4 officers KIA and 3 officers WIA
- 90 men KIA and 82 men WIA
- 1 25mm AT gun
- 10 motorcycles or side-cars
- 200 horses
During the these 2 days the 1e BS captured about 100 German POWs form 34.ID and 15.ID as well as a significant number of weapons and vehicles.
The German troops are always reinforced by new elements of the XVI.Armee. The French troops stop their progression and will return behind the French lines, covered by the artillery of several fortifications.
The 1e BS rated the German soldiers of the XVI.Armee :
- The infiltrated commandos and armed "civilians" attacked the supply columns, killed liaison officers, spread wrong information etc. but they had little influence on the whole operation. The French Spahis were trained for ambush warfare.
- The German infantry was not of excellent quality and seemed poorly trained, lacking keenness. The German soldiers were generally easily dispersed by the French artillery or infantry fire [of course the German troops of Gruppe Kleist are probably of better quality].
- The German artillery did not follow the German infantry at first. Many German batteries were quickly neutralized by French counter-battery fire, they were probably too self-confident. The French artillery had a far better rate of fire and a better accuracy.
- The German tanks were not seen in Luxembourg, only several armored cars were used. The Germans used a lot of AT mines to delay/hamper the movements of the French vehicles.
- The Luftwaffe was very active. There were many aircrafts, appearing continuously at low level and strafing our units.
1.2 German advance in the Ardennes
-- 10th May 1940 --
Operation Niwy (for Nives and Witry) is launched at 5h20 on 10th May 1940 : 400 commandos (10th company and 11th company of the 3rd battalion of the "Grossdeutschland" regiment reinforced by assault engineers) are transported by 98 Fi156 aircrafts (2 waves) behind the Belgian border. The 10th company (lieutenant-colonel Garski) has to be landed near Witry (next to Bodange) in support of the 1.PzD and the 11th company (captain Krüger) has to be landed near Nives in support of the 2.PzD. They have to cut the communication between Neufchâteau, Bastogne, Bodange and Martelange, to block all reinforcements coming from Neufchâteau and to attack the rears of the Belgian troops on the border.
Only 5 aircrafts land at 6h00 near Witry, including Garski. The others planes landed all at Léglise, 15 km south of Nives and 9 km south of Witry. The men manage to join the commander of the battalion at 13h00 only. The second wave arrives as planned at 8h00. At 17h30 the commandos meet the first elements of the 1.PzD after skirmishes with Belgian troops.
During the morning the XIX.Panzerkorps (Guderian) crosses Luxembourg and reaches the Belgian border. About 325 roads and bridges have been mined, destroyed or blocked in the Ardennes by the Belgian troops. Even if they are not defended, they will delay the German troops. Nonetheless, the border is not seriously defended and the German advance will be faster than planned by the French troops.
During the entry in Belgium the combats are rare, the Belgian troops are ordered to move back after having achieved the planned destructions. Nevertheless operation Niwy had unwanted effects since several Belgian troops did not receive the retreat order.
The 1.PzD is on the Sûre River at Bodange and Wisembach (slightly south of Bodange), where the bridges have been destroyed. Auklärung-Abteilung 4, a motorcycle company and the I/1.Schützen Regiment advance at the level of Wisembach, which is taken at 11h30. At Bodange, the 5th company of the 2nd battalion of the 1st Chasseurs Ardennais regiment (capitaine Brocart) fights on the spot since they never received the retreat order. The Belgian troops are entrenched behind the Sûre River and the destroyed bridge. There are AT mines on the banks and barbed wire networks. At the beginning they have a T13 self-propelled AT gun but it is quickly sent to fight against the commandos on the rears. This company will delay the III/1.Schützen Regiment during 6 hours. When it surrenders at 18h00 it has lost 11 KIA (including Brocart) and 20 WIA.
Druing the afternoon, lieutenant Obermaier, from the German commandos, leaves Nives in a requisitioned civilian car to make a reconnaissance on the Neufchâteau-Bastogne road. Near Vaux, the Germans meet a Panhard 178 armored car from the 5e DLC. Thanks to the surprise effect they move back to Nives, followed by the French armored car. The Panhard 178 is damaged by German AT rifles and moves back. At the end of the afternoon 3 Hotchkiss tanks and 3 AMR of the 5e DLC advance towards Nives. The German AT rifle are useless and the Germans retreat. During the night the 2.PzD reaches Nives.
After the first skirmishes, the Belgian troops retreat north / north-west towards Namur. The French cavalry enters in Belgium to delay the Germans, but there is no cooperation between the Belgian and the French. In fact the destructions operated by the Belgian will often hamper the French progression, cutting the reconnaissance elements from the rest of the French units. The Panzerkorps Guderian will have to face the 5e DLC, the 2e DLC, the 1e BC and the 3e BS (more than 1000 Germans AFVs against 96 French AFVs). The 1e DLC and 4e DLC will face the 5.PzD and 7.PzD further north (664 German AFVs against 96 French AFVs).
The reconnaissance elements of the 5e DLC (general Chanoine) meet the first German troops at 10h00 at Petite Rosière, 7 km north-east of Neufchâteau. These first German elements are defeated and the French reconnaissance moves back to Berjeux. A reconnaissance element engages German troops at Wittimont and makes 1 POW. During the afternoon advanced elements engage the German commandos of operation Niwy near Nives. The 5e DLC has reached the planned Neufchâteau-Libramont line on 10th May evening and waits for the 1.PzD and 2.PzD.
The 2e DLC (general Berniquet) is strongly hindered in its movement by the 10.PzD and the "Grossdeutschland" regiment. Contact is established at 9h00 east of Habay-la-Neuve, at 10h00 at Vance and at Arlon. Arlon is held by French reconnaissance troops until 16h30. At Etalle, the Hotchkiss tank squadron makes a successful attack, destroying several German tanks and colonel Föst, commander of the 2nd battalion of the "Grossdeutschland" regiment is KIA. The 2e DLC is also strongly engaged around Poncelle. The French cavalry division moves back to the Jamoignes-Dampicourt line. On 11th May, the 2e DLC will hold its position thanks to the French long range artillery of the area of Sedan. The Luftwaffe reports French armored forces on the moves, whereas the 2e DLC has only 48 AFVs including 13 Hotchkiss tanks. Guderian changes the planned movements and directs he 10.PzD north-west to avoid the French "armored forces". This will hamper the movements of the 1.PzD and 2.PzD.
Further north, the 1e DLC (general d'Arras) and 4e DLC (general Barbe) are ordered to cross the Meuse and to advance in Belgium, where they will meet the 7.PzD and the 5.PzD.
During this time, the French infantry divisions of the 9th Army are moving to the Meuse River, between Dinant and Namur, in Belgium :
- The 5e DIM (general Boucher) has enough trucks to motorize all the elements of the division.
- The 18e DI (general Duffet) has only sufficient trucks to transport 2 battalions. The 7 other battalions will move by foot. This division will hold a front of 21 km (instead of the theoretical 5-7 km) on the Meuse River. The 18e DI has only 21 25mm AT guns (instead of the theoretical 52). 400 horsed as well as 40% of the motor vehicles are also lacking. There are only 3 liaison motorcycles instead of 25. The 18e DI crosses the Belgian border at Riezes.
- The 22e DI (general Beziers-Lafosse) moves to the Signy-l'Abbaye / Givet area completely by foot.
On 10th May nigh, both German and French troops can be satisfied :
- The German plan is successful with the diversion in the Netherlands and in central Belgium. Several Panzerdivisionen have been slightly delayed but not very significantly.
- On the French side, the Dyle-Breda operation is achieved as planned. Only the 2e DLC is a bit late on its schedule after the combats against the 10.PzD. Nonetheless, most of the infantry moving into Belgium on the Meuse River is foot infantry. Unlike the German motorized divisions they will be tired and the divisions will often be incomplete to face the Germans. These French troops will also discover the area they have to defend just before the battle. At least 1 German armoured division has been identified in the Ardennes whereas no important mechanized forces are expected there. It means that motorized German troops will quickly reach the Meuse River.
-- 11th May 1940 --
The entry of the French cavalry in Luxembourg (1e BS and 3e DLC) led von Kleist to order Guderian to direct the 10.PzD back towards Longwy. Guderian considers the decision as a mistake; the 1.PzD and 2.PzD alone may have it more difficult to cross the Meuse River in front of Sedan. He manages to convince von Kleist and keeps the 10.PzD. The fact that von Kleist is worried indicates that the French troops in Luxembourg are nonetheless seen as a threat.
The 5e DLC is on the way of the 1.PzD, 2.PzD and 10.PzD.
At 3h00, reconnaissance elements of the 5e DLC are stopped on the Berjeux-Bastogne road by tanks from the 1.PzD and move back. The objective of the 1.PzD is Neufchâteau. Neufchâteau itself is defended by a French detachment and a second detachment is covering the eastern flank. A French artillery battery (4x 105mm C guns) is deployed in Petitvoir, behind Neufchâteau.
At 9h00, the French position is attacked by the 1.PzD with strong air support. 30 German tanks outflank the French troops by the south and reach the artillery battery at Petitvoir. The French field guns open fire at point blank range and 4 tanks are quickly destroyed but the battery is neutralized and submerged (31 gunners are KIA, WIA or POW). The front hold by the 5e DLC is suddenly endangered.
The next city, Bertrix, 7 km behind Petitvoir has to be defended since the French border is only 20 km away. The motorized elements of the 5e DLC are sent to Bertrix at 10h00 and the engineers begin their destructions in the area.
At 12h00, confronted to a strong German pressure, the 5e DLC moves back to the Semois (also written Semoy) River while fighting. Several troops are nonetheless encircled like one squadron of the 11e RC (Régiment de Cuirassiers – horse mounted cavalry). They will surrender on 17th May and only few of these men will manage to join the French lines again on 4th June.
General Chanoine, commander of the 5e DLC, knows that his division is in no way strong enough to stop the German Panzerdivisionen. The 5e DLC defends the city of Bouillon on the Semois River.
The 1e DLC and 4e DLC will have to face the 7.PzD and the 5.PzD.
The 1e DLC is deployed west of Dinant and crosses the Meuse River once the first infantry reinforcement are deploying in Belgium on the Meuse River. The 1e DLC is sent to the l'Homme (also written Lomme) stream. In the evening, because of the retreating 5e DLC, the 1e DLC (and the 1e BS between the 1e DLC and the 5e DLC) is also forced to move back behind the French infantry on the Meuse River.
The 4e DLC is north of the 1e DLC. Its 14e BLM crosses the Meuse River at 1h00 and moves to the Ourthe River, between Durbuy and Marche. The 4e RAM is attacked by numerous German tanks at 13h00 and moves back. The armoured cars regiment supported by the Hotchkiss tanks squadron counter-attacks and the battle lasts until the end of the day. The eastern part of Marche is hold by the Germans and the western part by the French troops. The 14e RDP is deployed further north, between Marche and Baillonvuille. The MG squadron (capitaine Feuillatre) destroys a German motorcycle platoon. On the evening the 4e DLC has reached the planned line, only the situation in Marche remains uncertain.
During this time the infantry of the 9th Army is entering in Belgium to deploy on the Meuse River.
- The 5e DIM is fully deployed at night and defends a front of 16 km (instead of the theoretical 5-7 km). It will face the 5.PzD.
- Only the first elements of the 18e DI are slowly arriving on the Meuse River. The engineers destroy the bridges. The division has to defend a front of 21 km between Houx and Hastière. It will face the 7.PzD and the 5.PzD.
- Only the first elements of the 22e DI are deploying on the Meuse River on 11th May.
In fact, the 18e DI and the 22e DI cannot be completely deployed on the Meuse River before the 14th May. Therefore incomplete divisions and troops exhausted after a long march will face the powerful Panzerdivisionen on 13th May.
On 11th May night, general Gamelin in Vincennes lacks information and good communications with most of the troops on the first line. General Georges, in charge of the north-eastern area, is roughly in the same situation. The hierarchy and the communications are too intricate and too slow for the fast moving German enemy.
The XIX.Panzerkorps reached Bouillon on the Semois River but cannot immediately seize the city, which is defended by retreating elements of the 5e DLC and 2 companies of the I/295e RI (55e DI), which have achieved a 20 km march to reach Bouillon. The 2 bridges are blown after the last troops of the 5e DLC have crossed the river.
-- 12th May 1940 --
The 1.Schützen Regiment (1.PzD) assaults Bouillon at 7h45. The 2 companies of the 295e RI are reinforced by a battalion of the 15e RDP and horse-mounted squadrons from the 12e GRCA.
Further west, at Mouzaive, the 1.PzD finds a ford for its tanks. Only weak elements of the 3e BS are defending the area of Mouzaive. The 2.PzD crosses the Semois at Vresse.
At 11h00, Bouillon is abandoned by the French troops after violent combats. At 19h00 the Germans have achieved an engineer bridge. The 5e DLC establishes a new line along the first French fore posts and fortified houses, behind the French border but before the Meuse River. The 1.PzD will for example meet the "Saint-Menges" fortified house, where 1 Panzer I and 1 Panzer IV are knocked out. The first elements of the 1.PzD reach the town of Saint-Menges at 13h30 and the Meuse River north of Sedan at 17h15 on 12th May.
The French fortified houses are located close to the border and on the edge of towns bordering Germany, they have to control all approaches. They were designed to provide early warning of a potential enemy attack. Their main mission is to activate explosive charges to destroy or block accesses, roads, bridges etc. and to warn the rear lines (direct telephone line, liaison motorcycle).
Each of the fortified house in the Ardennes consists in :
- a bunker surmounted by a house and surrounded by a barbed wire fence (or two bunkers side by side with a house in other areas)
- an armored barrier on the road, manned from inside the bunker
- 100x AT mines
- 20x AT stakes or "piquets Ollivier" (an improvised AT mine using a 3.5kg explosive charge or an old 120mm artillery shell (4.2kg explosive) dug vertically in the ground, with a 1m stake attached to the explosive charge or fuze)
- barbed wire networks
6 soldiers inside the bunker equipped with :
- 1x 37mm AT gun
- 2-4x FM 24/29 LMGs
- 2x VB launchers (rifle grenade)
- crenels for the small arms (rifles, carbines)
- 2x "goulotte lance-grenade" (a very close defense device to eject defensive F1 hand grenades around the bunker without exposing the soldiers)
- 1x liaison motorcycle
The rearguards of the 5e DLC cross the Meuse River at Sedan between 17h00 and 18h00. All the bridges are blown away. The first elements of the 10.PzD reach Sedan at 21h00.
On 12th May, the first German elements reach the Meuse River at the level of Dinant, Monthermé and Sedan. All the French cavalry units moves back behind the French infantry on the Meuse River :
- The 3e BS crosses the Meuse between 6h00 and 9h00 at Charleville-Mézières
- The 1e DLC crosses the Meuse at 13h00 at Dinant. The retreat of the 1e DLC is difficult since the division is in contact with the 7.PzD and several 25mm AT guns are sacrificed to protect the retreat. They knock out a good number of German tanks.
The French infantry line on the Meuse River in Belgium is still very weak and the situation is therefore rather critical. Many battalions have not reached the Meuse River yet and even for complete infantry divisions the front to defend is 3 to 4 times larger than the theoretical 5-7 km planned for a division. To add to these issues, the river itself is not especially difficult to cross but very difficult to defend and there are many meanders creating blind spots.
On 12th May, the 18e DI has deployed 5 battalions out of 9 and roughly no artillery to defend a front of 21 km. The support of elements of the 1e DLC is by far insufficient. The 22e DI on its side is rather completely arrived on 12th May but not very well deployed. Only the 5e DIM is really ready for combat.
The French cavalry has been fighting for 3 days and the French infantry for several hours but general Gamelin is still not aware of the gravity of the situation. The German tanks are signalled by the French cavalry and they are spotted by the French Air Force (heading for Bouillon on 11th May and in Bouillon on 12th May) but the various piece of information did not reach the high command and/or were not taken into consideration. In fact the French Air Force had actually found the 4 penetration axis of Herresgruppe A through Luxembourg and Belgium, but at the high command a colonel told them "you don't know what a tank is, they cannot cross the Ardennes".
If, as wanted by general Huntzinger, the French cavalry would have remained in the Semois River to establish a defensive line instead of pushing deeper in Belgium, the German advance would probably have been much more delayed. Nevertheless, all the French cavalry units had not the sufficient strength to stop the 7 German armored divisions.
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Apostilles of the Schützen Regiment 1 in France 1940.
On May 12, 1940 the I./ SR 1 with the support of two platoons of PR 1 and artillery support of the II. / AR 73 reached the Semois in Bouillon. Towards the afternoon it was possible to clear the city and to form a bridgehead in the heights of the south shore (Photo 1 below).
After overcoming the obstacle of the Meuse River, on May 14, 1940, at 11:30 hours the SR 1 crossed the Ardennes Canal west of Omicourt. The II. Battalion of the regiment marched behind some tanks towards the dominant heights in Vendresse and there established a defense. From 16:00 hours, the French attacks were reduced and the regiment was able to continue its advance. The first battalion of the regiment continued the march as the vanguard (Photo 2 below).
Sources: http://www.ebay.at/sch/i.html?_pgn=1&cn ... ia%20fotos
http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gli ... er/SR1.htm
http://www.kfzderwehrmacht.de/Homepage_ ... iants.html
Cheers. Raúl M .