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Austin Cousins
Dr. Zhu
The Second World War
11/24/15
The Failure of France

The hour has come for the decisive battle for the future of the German nation. For 300

years the ruler of England and France have made it their aim to prevent any real consolidation of

Europe and above all to keep Germany weak and helpless. With this your hour has come. The

fight which begins today will decide the destiny of the German people for 1,000 years. Now do

your duty 1 This was Hitlers speech to his troops right before he sent to invade what was the

largest military at the time. Hitler had been devastated by the Germanys lose to the French in the

First World War. He wrote about it Mein Kampf how much he hated the French and how they

oppressed Germany with the Treaty of Versailles.2 Hitler wanted a chance to get back what

Germany had lost. First he took power in Germany, then he took back the Rhineland, then

Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, and Norway. He was ready to take on the Grand

Alliance of Britain and France. The problem was that Britain and France were not ready for

Hitler; especially the French. French leadership both militarily and politically were unprepared to

fight. The people of France did not want to fight. And the French were not prepared

technologically to for the new war they would have to fight. The Germans however found

exploited these weaknesses by making them strengths. All of these elements; the inadequacies of

French leadership, lack of French morale, and the poor use of technology such as the radio,

1 Miller, Donald L., and Henry Steele Commager. "The Nazi Juggernaut." The Story of World War II. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 2001. Print

2 Hitler, Adolf, and Ralph Manheim. "The Great War." Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943. 198-200. Web.
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combined with German leadership, the peoples steadfastness, and military mechanization lead to

a terrible defeat for France in the summer months of 1940.

Leadership on both sides is the most important factor in the German victory. Germanys

leaders were strong and intelligent generals that tried to stay as up to date on tactics and

technology. For the most part the German Wehrmacht (or army) was still under the control of

generals rather than Hitler. The head of this massive army of over Field Marshal Walther von

Brauchitsch. The original plan for the invasion was to lead three armies into the Netherlands,

Holland, Belgium, and France. One army led by Gen. von Rundstedt in the center, would attack

between Belgium and the Maginot line. Gen. von Leeb who would face the Maginot line directly

and try to tie up French forces at their boarder. Gen. von Bock, who would start the battle in the

Low Countries, would create another distraction and force the French and British to be

surrounded by Von. Rundstedts army. All were experienced veterans of the First World War.

That did not hold any of them from understanding the way that warfare was changing. They had

also all fought in Poland and were adept to the new blitzkrieg war. In the original invasion plan

for France von Bocks force would be the strongest and attempt to take on all the allied armies in

a fierce battle of attrition. This changed when two Generalleutnant created a new plan. The first

is Erich von Manstein worked on case yellow, the code name of the plan to invade France, to

change it so that it would trap the French and British armies in Belgium by making the Von

Rundstedts army the largest. Von Rundstedt would strike quick through the Ardennes forest

straight to the English Channel creating a pocket of allied soldiers to be crushed from all sides.

While the plan at first received stiff resistance it was adopted once Hitler learned about the

boldness of the strike. Another key player is Heinz Guderian, the writer of Achtung Panzer, one

the first books to describe the blitzkrieg warfare that helped the German army win time and again
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in the early days of the war. According to the Mansteins plan there would have to be a strong

leader at the head of the panzer army in the Ardennes. The drive in that forest would be the most

important part since it would allow the army to trap the allies strongest soldiers within a pocket.

Guderian would lead an armored corp into the Ardennes and race to the English Channel.

Guderian had already written down in his book how he would fight during the Battle of France

and demonstrated it in Poland. The Germans also had an understanding of the French battle

strategy as Gen. Heinz Guderian said, The German leadership could safely rely on the defense

of France being systematically based of the fortifications.3 The German leadership were as

prepared as they could be. Most German generals were wary about trying to fight the French

using the strategies of the First World War, but all were committed to taking revenge on the

French. Although a lot of soldiers were ready to die for Germany, most did not have the proper

training compared to their counterparts or had the right amount of supplies. But as the military

proverb goes; An army of sheep led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a sheep.

The lions were ready while the sheep lie in wait behind their wall.

The French considered themselves as prepared for anything the German army could

throw at them. While most German generals were wary about trying to fight the French using the

strategy of the First World War; all were committed to taking revenge on for the tragedy that

befell them at Versailles. On the other side of the Maginot line the feelings were not mutual. The

French commander and chief, Gen. Maurice Gamelin, who was 67 years old when war was

declared, had no intention of leaving the Maginot line. Gen. Gamelin knew the Germans would

never attack the Maginot Line directly and anticipated that the Germans would rely again on the

Schlieffen plan of attacking through Belgium. Gamelin was reassured when a Luftwaffe spotter

3 Arnold-Forster, Mark. "Fall of France." The World at War. New York: Stein and Day, 1973. Print.
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plane was downed in January of 1940.4 The plane contained an early version of Case Yellow, but

at the time showed that the main thrust would be just in Belgium and the smaller push was in

Ardennes. French high command knew where the main invasion force would come from and

planned accordingly. Gamelin sent his best his best troops and the British Expeditionary Force

(BEF) to the Belgium border to wait for the Germans to make their move. Gamelin believed,

along with most of France, in the Maginot mentality. But there were those in France that

disagreed. Colonel Charles De Gaulle believed in the power of the tank and wrote his own

Achtung Panzer, called Vers lArmee de Metier. But Charles was preaching to the deaf. No one in

the French High Command believed in using technology. Gamelin even had all of his reports

delivered by couriers on motorcycle. This lead to massive problems during the battle when whole

divisions were misplaced because by the time the courier arrived, received the new message and

went to deliver it the divisions might have been destroyed. He was a relic of the past and not

suited for the fast paced warfare that was arriving on his doorstep. Once the Allied Army started

to collapse in France Gamelin was sacked by the French Prime minister to be replaced by 73

year old Maxime Weygand. Weygand at the time was retired living in Syria. He had retired in

1935.5 He was thrown in the battle with an army that was in disarray and collapsing. The French

military decided the outcome of this battle in 1933 when the Germans first remilitarized the

Rhineland. By showing that it was more important for them to stay behind the Maginot Line,

they showed that they had zero desire to fight another war. When it was officially declared the

4 Arnold-Forster, Mark. "Fall of France." The World at War. New York: Stein and Day, 1973. Print.

5 The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Maxime Weygand." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.
Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
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French people had zero desire to go, while most Germans had been praying for that day to

finally come.

The French military were not the only ones at fault. The Third Republic of France had

been in turmoil for years. The French parliament was in a constant state of turmoil. Parties would

be elected one month, gone away the next, and a new one took its place only for the cycle to

repeat. France was without a government in 1993 when Hitler came to power, and when he

marched into Austria in 1938.6 During the battle the situation for the French people deteriorated

even more. Virginia Cowles describes their plight during the battle, It was the first mechanized

evacuation in history in that world of terror, panic, and confusionMorale was a question of

faith; faith in your cause, faith in your goal, but above all else, faith in your leaders. How could

these people have faith in leaders who abandoned themIf this was an example of French

leadership, no wonder France was doomed7 While the French government was constantly

changing their enemies were united under one banner. Hitler had brought prosperity to the

German people. He had rebuilt the economy to the best it had been in years, brought hope to all

German that their country would soon rule continental Europe, and found numerous scapegoats

that the German people could blame for their troubles. The defeat of 1918 was because of Jews

and Hitler would take revenge on France for what it had done. The German people rallied behind

this call to war. Those that did not were quickly silenced.

The French on the other hand were reluctant to fight at all. Most still felt the wounds of

places like Verdun and the Marne. In 1917 when the call of duty went out French boys were
6 Batty, Peter. "France Falls." World at War. 14 Nov. 1973.

7 Miller, Donald L., and Henry Steele Commager. "The Nazi Juggernaut." The Story of World War II. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 2001. Print.
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singing as the boarded the trains. In 1939 there was no singing; only a hope that it would be over

soon. This lead to a national pacifist movement. No longer did the French people wish to go and

die in the name of France. Instead they were contempt with living.8 The French people could not

look to their leaders who wanted as little fighting as possible too. This sentiment might have

even gone all the way to the top of the French government. Churchill tells the story of a

conversation between him and French Prime minister in his memoir of the battle, About half-

past seven in the morning of the 15th (May 1940) I was woken up with the news that Paul

Reynaud was on the telephone at my bedside. He spoke in English, and evidently under stress.

"We have been defeated." As I did not immediately respond he said again: "We are beaten; we

have lost the battle." I said: "Surely it can't have happened so soon?" But he replied: "The front is

broken near Sedan"9 This conversation was held only five days after the battle had started. The

French people had no leader to look to in this time of crisis. The German people looked to Hitler

and were ready to follow him all the way to Paris. German troops were ready to die for the

fatherland unlike their French counterparts.

The German army was at the height of its morale. Their army had taken Poland within a

month, steamrolled over Denmark, and won the first battle against the allies in Norway.

Churchill wrote in his memoir about what he thought of the German right before the invasion,

The German Army had grown in strength and maturity with every month that had passed, and

8 Jackson, Julian. "The French People at War." The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. 14647.
Print.

9 Churchill, Winston. "The Battle of France: Gamelin." Their Finest Hour. Boston: Published in Association with the
Cooperation Pub. Houghton Mifflin, 1949. 51 Print.
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they now had a vastly more power armour10. While they were not really as prepared to march

into France as some would think; they were mentally prepared. High command of the German

army had been waiting for this moment to take revenge on the French for the Treaty of Versailles

and the soldiers wanted nothing more than to be the first units to enter Paris.

France on the other hand was not close to as ready. Most wanted the conflict to be over

before it even began. No one wanted to fight another war. Most forces had little combat

experience, the only offensive they had taken part in was the Saar offensive. Even then that was

not much. The offensive was only for the cameras since as soon as they started making ground

they retreated right back behind their lines. Most say that if the French continued the offensive,

they would have been in Berlin within a week. Churchill wrote about the condition of the French

troops as well, The French Army, gnawed at by Soviet-inspired communism and chilled by the

long, cheerless winter on the front, had actually deteriorated.11 French soldiers saw little of their

commanding officers, who hid well behind the lines.

One final aspect to look at is the use of technology on both sides and how leadership

shaped their effectiveness. Gamelin did not have a radio to connect with his field commanders

but there was another place where the radio made a massive difference. Every German tank had a

radio with which it could communicate with air support and command. The German high

command had a better understand of where each army was and units could communicate to

destroy the superior French tanks. Not only in the large sense of where divisions were but units

10 Churchill, Winston. "The Battle of France: Gamelin." Their Finest Hour. Boston: Published in Association with the
Cooperation Pub. Houghton Mifflin, 1949. 28 Print.

11 Churchill, Winston. "The Battle of France: Gamelin." Their Finest Hour. Boston: Published in Association with the
Cooperation Pub. Houghton Mifflin, 1949. 28. Print.
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could talk with other units.12 During the battle a panzer could talk with a plane or infantry to

coordinate an attack on a French position. The French had the advantage in armor at the start of

the war. The most widely used French tank at the time was the R-35, which had 43 mm of amour

and a 37 mm main gun. The Panzer II on the other hand only had 14.5 mm of armor, and a 1x2

cm 30 Ausf. Cannon. While it could not take the R-35 in single combat, its top speed was 40

kilometers per hour; compared to the Renaults top speed of 20 kilometers per hour. The Panzer II

could out maneuver and overwhelm any French tank.13 Both sides had their armies waiting at the

French border so there was no worry about moving supplies to the armies. Both armies did

however still use brigades of horses to transport artillery and supplies around to the battlefield.

While the French would have home field advantage the lack of radio use would make it hard for

supplies and orders to be received by armies in the field. German command could move supplies

and orders more efficiently since radio was common within their ranks.

The German would take most of France within a month. The French government which

had moved three times during the course of that month was suing for peace with the Nazis. Prime

Minister Paul Reynaud stepped down and a hero from the Great War took his place. Marshall

Phillippe Petain would become head of Vichy France. Charles De Gaulle would escape to Britain

to broadcast to the French people to keep fighting. Most of France would fall under the

occupation of the Nazis because of the failure of Gamelin and Weygand. Also because of the lack

of leadership by the French government and the peoples resolve to fight another great war. And

finally due to the French militarys incompetence in using the technology available to them. The

12 McInnis, Edgar. "April to 15 June." The War: First Year. London: Oxford UP, 1940. 183-203. Print.

13 Zabecki, David T. "Section IV-T." World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Pub., 1999. 1129-140.
Print.
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Germans however mastered the areas where French failed. Powerful and cunning leaders in

government and military lead a people ready for war. Technology in the right areas allowed for

the German army to crush the French. The French would continue to fight however, some in the

Free French army but most as partisans, till liberation came four years and two months later.

Bibliography

Arnold-Forster, Mark. "Fall of France." The World at War. New York: Stein and Day, 1973.Print.

Batty, Peter. "France Falls." World at War. 14 Nov. 1973.

Hitler, Adolf, and Ralph Manheim. "The Great War." Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,

1943. 198-200. Web.

McInnis, Edgar. "April to 15 June." The War: First Year. London: Oxford UP, 1940. 183-203.

Print.

Miller, Donald L., and Henry Steele Commager. "The Nazi Juggernaut." The Story of World

War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Print

Jackson, Julian. "The French People at War." The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940.

Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. 14647. Print.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "Maxime Weygand." Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Churchill, Winston. "The Battle of France: Gamelin." Their Finest Hour. Boston: Published in

Association with the Cooperation Pub. Houghton Mifflin, 1949. Print.


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Zabecki, David T. "Section IV-T." World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York:

Garland Pub., 1999. 1129-140. Print.