The blitzkrieg is a military offensive used by Germany during World War II. The doctrines managing blitzkrieg were developed after World War I, to prevent linear and trench warfare. It involved attacking enemy forces with surprise and great speed to keep them from developing any coherent defensive tactics. Forces were concentrated in these attacks with tankers, air strikes, artillery and infantry all bringing in excessive force in order to break enemy boundaries and defensive mechanisms. They look for a breaking point that will enable the blitzkrieg attack to have maximum desired effect. Once they have successfully broken through enemy lines, the attacks don’t stop in order to put them off balance and leave them vulnerable. These attacks affect them both physically and psychologically. Not only do blitzkrieg attacks utilize massive force and weaponry, but also strategic thinking and combat knowledge (Miksche 1-9).
The Blitzkrieg was employed seriously and successfully by Germany in the attack of powerful nations, like France. It descended on France with Luftwaffe dive bombers and an estimate of about two thousand panzers that destroyed anyone and anything in their way forcing the French population to retreat towards the south abandoning other cities including Paris (Olive-Drab). The fall of France in 1940 shocked the world. France had won in 1918 consequently making her the force to be reckoned with in Europe. However, after World War I, things changed and France shifted from the offensive to the defensive. In 1940, World War II was underway and Germany was becoming more and more victorious. A ‘phony war’ started because of rumors and fears that Germany was about to invade either Belgium or Netherlands. In just six weeks of the spring and summer of 1940, Germany accomplished the defeat of one of the world’s greatest powers by employing revolutionary tactics of war for about 46 days (Morgan). It also used propaganda to scare French citizens into fleeing cities. The fleeing caused flocking in areas where French troops were and this made it difficult for them to maneuver.
In late 1939 and early 1940, France considered attacking Germany and marshaled its forces and those of Britain though, this possibility never sufficed. The success of their strategy depended heavily on the Maginot Line which had been constructed by Andre Maginot (Clark). It was a system constructed with state of the art material and planning that would defend France against invasion and attacks by enemy nations. The French were prepared to fight and win a battle like World War I; they were not prepared to fight a blitzkrieg. It had a large army when World War II started and was equipped with tanks and other weapons. France’s veterans had perfected of fighting in a defensive position which is what they had done throughout most of World War I and had come out victorious. Most of the people leading the French army were veterans of World War I and did not have much experience in fighting blitzkrieg type wars. Though neighboring nations like Poland had been attacked and defeated through blitzkrieg, France did not bother to learn how to defend itself from such attacks believing that the defense tactics they had were strong enough to protect them. Though the German and the French army had manpower and artillery of almost equal strength, the Germans had mastered control and use of their weapons and had war strategies that outwitted France.
However, the French came up after every attack and were ready to fight. They did not shy away but, they were fighting a foe with greater knowledge and strategy than them at the time. The German army was also trained in the use of modern weapons and communication while the French did not have this information even though they had the equipment. German gave the world the first demonstration of blitzkrieg by attacking Poland successfully. France and Britain got involved because they had a pact with Poland. Poland had been attacked by Germany using blitzkrieg. France was confident of a win in case they were confronted by Germany. The Maginot line was full of men, guns, equipment and other supplies. The German armies also went all out and were within firing range but neither fired at the other, they only used propaganda as a weapon and hurled messages across to each other. This came to be known as the phony war. The French had no idea that Germans did not want to wage attacks on heavy concentrations of French troops and their allies; instead, they went around them looking for soft spots they could get through without much trouble and by using little man-power.
While the phony war was on going, Germans began attacking Norway on Aril 9th for being allies with the British who had seized a German prison ship. Also, Denmark was seized with very few shots fired. After a month on May 10th, Germany began unleashing their blitzkrieg attack on Netherlands, the French Seventh Army rushed to the rescue but it was no march for the German troops and soon after, Netherlands surrendered. While occupation of Netherlands was taking place, Germans kept busy in the southern areas where their troops and army corps began massive blitzkrieg attacks on French armies stationed in the Ardennes Forest.
They were led by General Heinz Guderian. Germany continued its attack on weaker French Army fronts (the second and the ninth) stationed at Sedan near the Meuse River. The second and ninth armies had armored cars and horses which were easily overpowered by the German panzers. Consequently, they were forced out of the way while the Germans crossed the Meuse River immediately beginning on the night of May 12th- 13th.
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General Erwin Rommel began crossing with his corps and later, General Hans Reinhardt crossed with more troops then General Guderian did the same. The last of the crossing were on May 14ht and, after they were consolidated, the French were taken by surprise and since the major obstacle to the Germans was crossing, they were fully prepared to take on the French defense line. By this time, it was clear that the phony war was over but, the German corps made no attempt to penetrate the Maginot line. Instead, they concentrated their efforts towards Sedan. The penetration of the defense line in Sedan, a town northeastern of France, became the breaking point. A blitzkrieg managed to get through a weak point between the second and ninth armies stationed in Sedan. The hinge between the armies was penetrated and the blitzkrieg continued on.
There were six Meuse crossing sites and with the initial attacks, Germans managed to cross three of them. One of Germany’s best leaders in combat and a decorated World War I veteran, Colonel Hermann Balck commanded the advance of the first panzer division descended upon the French divisions. The 55th division of the French and its 147th regiment got out of the colonel’s way and even abandoned some of their artillery. The final line of defense before La Boulette only had 2 machine guns and, the French soldiers at this post vacated it without a fight. The Germans penetrated it without hesitation or holding back their numbers.
The French were unable to plug the flows of Germans into France and soon they were overpowered. Panzers went across the Meuse and, gaps between the second and ninth French defense armies had been created. As with any gap, the more items that penetrate it, the wider it becomes (Chapman 3). There was a 40 mile gap between the defense armies where German corps penetrated with increasing numbers. However, the French still believed that invasion of Netherlands was the German’s end-game. It wasn’t until some days later on May 18th that they realized the Germans were after the English Channel and not Paris (Morgan). Germans went on with their blitzkrieg to get to the channel.
By May 20th, Abbeville at the channel had already been invaded by German panzers. The French first army group were holding fort at Flanders and, were isolated from others. British troops also retreated and they were left alone. They evacuated Dunkirk leaving France at the mercy of Germans. As a result, the French still fought back. Unfortunately, new armored divisions created by them were faced serious defeat by the Germans. At this, they saw the fall of three more divisions. The last division launched attacks on the Germans but failed because they lacked more supply of equipment to fight with. Paris was bombed by German troops on June 3rd and other defenses put up to expand the Maginot line were attacked and overwhelmed.
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On June 5th, German troops kept advancing towards the heart of France and crossed the Somme River. French armies were kept away and more panzer columns penetrated the nation of France. On the other side of the fence, Benito Mussolini’s Italy took advantage of the Blitzkrieg’s effect on France and declared war on June 10th with an invasion of 400,000 troops through Riviera. Soon afterwards on June 11th, the government of France decided to abandon Paris and move to Bordereaux and tours (Morga). With Paris now open, German forces flooded it on June 14th.
Germans were overwhelmingly victorious over France. The French Premier Paul Reynaud resigned and Pertain took over on June 16th. The first act of Pertain was to ask for a truce (armistice) from Hitler. The allies were unwilling to help France since it had no supplied or manpower that could be of assistance to them. French ships were seized by under orders from Winston Churchill but the ones in North Africa were still secure. The French admiral was given an ultimatum to surrender by the British and in turn, French ships in the Mediterranean were destroyed on June 3rd. Neither friend nor foe showed France any mercy and they were regarded as collaborators with axis powers because of the armistice (Colonel 82).
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Though the Maginot line was still strong with its supplies, Germans had taken a different route from what was expected and come up behind it. Men who had been stationed at the line to fight enemies who attempted penetration had been relocated to fight in other defense areas (Morgan). An armistice was signed between France and Hitler on June 22nd at the same place France had read the terms of the armistice to Germany in 1918. This was the same place that Germany had surrendered to the allies (Olive-Drab). Northern France was occupied. The Maginot line surrendered after receiving word that France had surrendered. France fell at the hands of Germany after the numerous blitzkriegs had been launched (Rowe 9-30).
The blitzkrieg left France with little weaponry, manpower, defense mechanisms and even hope. Allies turned away from France and there was no one to help when heeded. Also, other nations took advantage of the situation the blitzkrieg had left France in to claim the invasion of a once powerful nation, other allies and neighboring countries like Belgium and Netherlands had tasted some of the blitzkrieg and were in no condition to help France either because of fear or lack of supplies. All the conditions that led to the fall of France were, in one way or another, planned, orchestrated, utilized or assisted by the blitzkrieg. Some of the achievement of the blitzkrieg was through favorable outcomes of little encounters and a series of unfortunate events that France faced through the start of World War II.
The blitzkrieg was not entirely responsible for the fall of France but a great percentage the triggers are its doing. Though the blitzkrieg had fundamental strategies that were to be followed, it was also a dynamic warfare and the high level of adaptation it had to situations that could make it successful can be attributed to those who were instrumental in implementing it like General Guderian. The principles of moving on lightning speed and using massive firepower were obvious but the decisions about the places to do this at were most effective and instrumental in the fall of France (William 30-47).
Though France was completely destroyed by Germany’s blitzkrieg warfare in World War II, it still came up to do what would be best for it at the time which was to surrender. The major mistake that France made was to be inflexible in its war tactics, weaponry and knowledge and also to lack intelligence in its leadership (Vancook). Their failure to adjust to changing methods of combat cost them dearly. They put all their eggs in one basket by depending only on the Maginot line, which was a good strategy but it could not protect all of France. French soldiers fought bravely but France had no chance against the Germans and their blitzkrieg strategy.