The Phony War- WTH?!

It makes you wonder though why they fought in the first place. It doesn’t seem like they ever had the will to do much of anything in the war. Were they dragged into it by the British or something?

They (and Britain) could not continue to avoid the issue. After the final dismemberment of Czechslovakia they were backed into a corner: if Germany next invaded Poland, they were committed to go to war, or else might as well just surrender the continent without a fight right then and there. BUT, and this is an important “but”, neither side deep inside considered themselves ready for a big fight in 1939 – as mentioned, Hitler’s generals had to point out to him that Poland had taken a lot out of the Wehrmacht and it took time to get back to form, and meanwhile France and Britain were *still *playing rebuild and catch up. Unfortunately for France the German commanders once they got their wind back were ready to gamble big, while the French forces were still trying to get their act together. As mentioned, would-be more aggressive warfighters like DeGaulle were relative juniors (just promoted to Brigadier General upon the start of the campaign).

Which doesn’t mean they did not fight – when they had the chance they fought hard… and were beaten, but that’s just how war goes. But a lot of the time formations were simply bypassed and encircled, neutralized, rendered useless to do anything more. By the time the high command got a picture of what was going on, they had no back-up with which to, say, cut off an overextended advance or relieve a pocket of resistence. They *were *defeated.

But also don’t underestimate that there were segments of French society and the military brass who were not just unenthused at the idea of losing yet another generation, but though surely not expecting long-term occupation, were musing something along the lines of “Oh well… so we lose Alsace-Lorraine and a couple of African colonies all over again… but maybe this means we get to get rid for good of the 3rd Republic and the Popular Front and the Socialists and Laicists and put in a good tough government who’ll make the trains run on time and teach good old values.” Petain did not just take the place over by his own old self.

Even that doesn’t seem to be accurate.

According to Wiki, while it’s true that Raynaud (accurately) assessed that France was being crushed, he was one of the strongest advocates for continuing the fight by any means necessary, and was opposed to the armistice with Germany.

From Wiki:

Or another Wiki article:

Something I wanted to add to what RickJay said on the matter is this: Poland was doomed from the start. Even if the Soviet Union hadn’t invaded, even if the German Army used considerably fewer tanks, even if France had managed to mobilize faster and launched an attack more meaningful than the Saar Offensive, Poland was doomed. It was surrounded on three sides by a much stronger force as can clearly be seen on a map of the campaign: to the north was East Prussia, the west Germany proper, and to the south the puppet state of Slovakia. To make matters worse, the most militarily sound thing Poland could have done would probably have been to fall back and establish a firm defensive line along the Vistula and Warta rivers. Doing so would have required surrendering a large swath of the country, including the industrially important region of Silesia. This was considered to be politically unfeasible, and instead Poland foolishly attempted to defend the entire length of the border. German use of armor during the polish Campaign was also quite timid compared to later in the war in France and Russia, [

](Invasion of Poland - Wikipedia)Poland was itself not taken by surprise by a blitzkrieg of tanks, Polish cavalry brigades in particular were well equipped with anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles. They were in the very slow process of being converted to mechanized brigades but lack of funds meant little had been done. German tank losses were rather heavy, especially in the 4th Panzer Division:

Poland’s performance comes out looking rather good compared to that of France and Britain in terms of how long they held out and the casualties Germany incurred.

That is a lot of turpentine. I suppose there was something to block the tanks, it would seem that they would simply quickly drive through it.


My point was that neither the British nor French realized just HOW the Germans were going to attack- the idea of massed armored warfare wasn’t really in their conception at that point- they had their tanks distributed among their infantry, for example.

One advantage that the Germans had that is often overlooked was their large scale use of the drug “Pervitin” (which was an early form of crystal meth). This drug was issued to troops during crucial operations. This allowed their troops to operate more or less continuosly (at least for the short term) with no down time - which enabled the panzers to move so rapidly to the channel from their starting points. Other than stopping for resupply and to deal with the two weak Allied armored counter attacks they were pretty much able to go non-stop. The same was true for the Luftwaffe - they could fly repeated sorties in a manner the Allied pilots could not.

In hindsight, H.G. Wells’s predictions in The Shape of Things to Come about the next European war are hilarious. He predicted that tanks would be nearly useless due to the efficiency of anti-tank traps, and that the German advance eastward would grind to a halt in the face of the mighty Polish Army.

Offensive operations would have been politically impossible to sell in both the UK and France.

It’s my understanding that one of the major reasons the Iraqis lacked a coherent and realistic plan was their inability to respond to Coalition air power. The Coalition quickly established air superiority and basically destroyed any command and control facility, vehicle or sizeable troop formation that it could find.

They may have understood combined arms mechanized warfare, but were they really prepared for it? Was their doctrine built around it? I mean the Iraqis understood the concept of “air power”. It’s quite another thing to have NATO aircraft destroying your army with impunity.

The fact that they spend so much of their resources building the Maginot Line seems to indicate to me that they still believed that war favored defenders dug into fixed fortified positions. When that plan failed, the French generals had no response and they panicked.

I’m not an expert so it’s more of a question really.

In 1938, WW1 happened about the same time ago as Windows 95 did to now.

The UK lost about 2% of its population in dead alone. That would be about 6 and a half million Americans in today’s money (not the 56, 000 lost in Vietnam, for example) - there was a certain reluctance to repeat history just 2 decades later. France lost double the UK losses.

Besides, at that point the UK was behind the curve in so many technological areas.

Read up about the 100 days in WW1. The TL;DR version is this, the Allies, with the British in the lead use combined arms, Infantry, Armour, Artillery and Air to kick German asses. They broke through the Hindenburg Line in 3 days. In 1940, its not like the Allies did not know about the use of Armour, if anything they had more relevant experience than the Germans.

The Maginot line worked as it was supposed to. The German main assault was diverted to the low countries, where the Allied armies could engage them and trade space for time. That they did. The problem was that the Germans attacked through the Ardennes forest, which was deemed not suitable for tanks (and it was not, Germans had traffic jams of the most horrendous type). Once they broke through there, then they ended up in the rear of the Allied armies in Belgium and N France. Even this would not have been fatal, had there been sufficient mobile armoured reserves to check the enemy, but there were not and the forces that existed were uncoordinated. Even then they caused quite a lot of damages to the Germans, however the Germans were able to reach the coast and trap the Armies in the North.

The Maginot line worked completely and thoroughly, the idea that “Hurr, they built a big wall and the Germans just walked around it, how dumb” is a myth. It was not intended to somehow completely win the war on it’s own, it was built to defend the southern part of France’s eastern border well enough that a small garrison could hold the line and more forces could be concentrated for the decisive battle in Belgium. It did that job very well, France was able to use a small garrison for that part of the line, and Germany didn’t succeed in breaking any part of it until the battle for France was in mop-up phase. “That plan” didn’t actually fail at all; the plan was for Germany to avoid attacking the fortresses and move through Belgium, where the bulk of the French army would fight. They lost the fight in the low countries, but it’s not because they didn’t expect the Germans to attack north of the Maginot line.

The French and British did think that combat was going to be more firepower oriented than maneuver oriented, but didn’t discount maneuver. The major problem for France was that they had a significantly smaller population than Germany and a conscription system that only called reservists up for a limited time. The smaller population meant a smaller army, and their reserve system meant that they couldn’t train much of the army as well as would be needed for flexible, maneuverable warfare, so they really didn’t have much choice but to adopt a more defensive doctrine and expect experience to make up for lack of training. Calling up reservists for longer wasn’t politically palatable in the interwar years, and the Army really couldn’t do anything about it.

The greatest victory on the Western front in the war.And the campaign still cost the allies almost three quarters of a million casualties. The repeated upthread mentions of the Allies ‘We really don’t want to this again’ inclination to wait till the Germans actually attacked aren’t suprising in the circumstances.

Bolding mine; that is actually something that the French did not do, much to their detriment. I’ll have to try digging up my copy, but I believe it was in Numbers, Predictions and War that Trevor Dupuy noted that after having invested so much treasure into building the Maginot Line that the French then proceeded to deploy their forces as if it wasn’t there. Oddly if anything they placed too little faith in the Maginot Line, as it could have been held with a much smaller force than was assigned to it, which could have freed up a substantial force as a reserve and blunted the German attack through the Ardennes. There is an order of battle of the forces in the Battle of France here, note that the Maginot Line was held by the Second and Third French Army Groups, comprising the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 8th Armies.

The Allies had a long series of well-fortified defensive strongholds all along the French-German border and were ready in northeast France/Belgium to fight the German army.

By most perspectives, the Allies were in strong stead to hold back any German offensive on the Western front.

However, Hitler was a gambler. He sent the Wehrmacht through the Ardennes Forest–unthinkable to the Allies. The Germans were able to completely surround the Allies and force them to the coast of Dunkirk.

So, in short, the Allies thought there was no way they could lose to a German offensive and lost to precisely the one maneuver they thought impossible.


Capturing 1.8 Million French soldiers and storming into Paris is, undoubtedly, the greatest victory of the Western Front, perhaps even of all time.

I believe DeptfordX was referring to WW1.

A quick count shows that the first army group included twice as many divisions as the second and third army groups combined. So it was roughly 2/3 of the forces at the Belgian border and 1/3 defending the Maginot line.

I’m not sure how you arrive at this count, even adding the Belgian Army and the BEF into French 1st Army Group barely gets it to being slightly larger in size to the Second and Third Army Groups combined, or 1/2 on the Belgian border and 1/2 defending the Maginot Line; far more than was needed to defend it. Bear in mind that the frontage defended by the Maginot Line was roughly the same as the frontage of First Army Group, so the distribution of divisions is fairly even along the entire length of the front - so again, the deployment is as if the Maginot Line weren’t there.

For the record, my count (not including the BEF or Belgian Army) is 34 divisions in First Army Group, 29 in Second and 10 in Third, so 34 on the Belgian border vs 39 guarding the Maginot Line:

French First Army Group (34 divisions in total)
French 1st Army
French Cavalry Corps
2 Div
French 3rd Corps
2 Div
French 4th Corps
1 Div
French 5th Corps
2 Div

French 2nd Army
2 Div
French 10th Corps
4 Div
French 18th Corps
2 Div
French 7th Army
3 Div
French 1st Corps
2 Div
French 16th Corps
1 Div
French 9th Army
2 Div
French 2nd Corps
2 Div
French 11th Corps
3 Div
French 41st Corps
2 Div

French Armored Reserves
4 Div

French 2nd Army Group (29 division in total)

French 3rd Army
6 Div
French Colonial Corps
3 Div
French 6th Corps
2 Div
French 24th Corps
1 Div
French 42nd Corps
2 Div

French 4th Army
2 Div
French 9th Corps
2 Div
French 20th Corps
2 Div

French 5th Army
1 Div
French 8th Corps
2 Div
French 12th Corps
3 Div
French 17th Corps
2 Div
French 43rd Corps
1 Div

French 3rd Army Group (10 divisions in total)

French 8th Army
French 7th Corps
2 Div
French 13th Corps
4 Div
French 44th Corps
1 Div
French 45th Corps
3 Div