The French Army in WWII - Page 2




 
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July 24th, 2009  
Doppleganger
 
 
The French military doctrine in WW2 was one of defence, ever since their experiences of WW1 and to a lesser degree, their defeat at the hands of the Prussians in 1870, where Bismarck announced a united Germany for the first time in history. Hence the reason for the Maginot Line that mmarsh has already mentioned.

Actually, it was in 1939 where this failing was most noticeable. When the Germans were invading Poland their western frontier was only defending by a light screening of around 25 divisions, most of which were poorly equipped and with 2nd echelon troops. German General Siegfried Westphal estimated that the French could have reached the Rhine in two weeks if they had tried. However, the French General Staff lacked ambition, foresight and leadership. To cut a very long story short they lacked the stomach for a fight with Germany, borne out of past experiences. They forgot the old maxim; that offence is often the best form of defence. They actually did mount an offensive called Operation Saar but this ended up being a total fiasco.

http://www.historynet.com/operation-...ii-feature.htm

The French Army in 1939 was one of the largest, best-trained armies on the planet. It had some of the best tanks in the world but had not kept up with the fast moving developments in armoured warfare. They tended to use their tanks piecemeal as infantry support weapons instead of grouping them together in an armoured fist as the Germans did. So despite them having better tanks the manner in which they used them, coupled with the over reliance on defence, meant that the Germans were quickly able to outflank and outmaneuver them.

The French Army in 1939 could have ended the war right there and then. The Wehrmacht was committed in Poland and any determined French invasion of Germany at that time would have spelt disaster for Hitler. They missed their big opportunity to affect the outcome of WW2 and consequently the French faced invasion once again in 1940 where, simply put, they were simply outhustled, outfought and outgeneraled.
July 24th, 2009  
mmarsh
 
 
Doppleganger is correct...

The French could have beaten the Germans, their campaign was one of missed opportunties, bad decisions, and obsolete ways of thinking of the part of the leaders. But there was nothing inheritatly wrong with the French Army itself.

They had more planes, better tanks, and well trained men. The Char 1bis and the Somua S-35 were much better than the Pz II+III+IVD (the early infantry version). Had they grouped them together into the Panzergruppen as the Germans did, History could have taken a much different (and better course).

Also remember the the French were not alone, the BEF suffered the same mistakes the French did. The advantage that the British had of course was that their little patch of soil happens to be on a very difficult to invade Island which they were able to evacuate to, and learn from their mistakes.

I also agree with what Perseus said.

The French Government surrendered, the entire Army never did. They would have lost Paris, but that was a forgone conclusion. They could have made a stand in the mountains in center France. The French had reserves in Southern France covering the Italian border, if they had pulled their remaining divisions into Center France (like Auvegne) they could have made the Germans lifes very hard. As the US found out in Italy and the Pacific, Mountain fighting is best left for the infantry. The Mountain Roads in Auvergne are very dangerous, definatly too Narrow and steep for Tanks. Also mountains over good protection for both Arty and Airpower. So the Germans would have had to use their landsers, and the French would have had a defensive advantage and possibly a numerical one as well as the Germans would have had to bled off troops to occupy the parts they controlled.

Unfortunatly we will never know, the French government couldnt bare the thought of losing Paris and decided to throw in the towel once it was clear it was lost.
July 24th, 2009  
MontyB
 
 
There is also one thing I have seen mentioned elsewhere that one of the biggest problems in the defence of France was the British plan to move the BEF into Belgium which effectively created separation between the British and French forces that killed any chance of a mobile defence.
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July 24th, 2009  
perseus
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
There is also one thing I have seen mentioned elsewhere that one of the biggest problems in the defence of France was the British plan to move the BEF into Belgium which effectively created separation between the British and French forces that killed any chance of a mobile defence.

Not sure what you mean Monty, the line was still continuous after the allies had moved up, with the Belgians on the BEF left and French on their right. The BEF only held a part of the line through Belgium (it would have been smaller still if the Belgians had their way).
July 25th, 2009  
Apansson
 
From my understanding (mainly based on biographies of Charles de Gaulle), the main cause of the failure of France was political rather than military in the first place. The lack of political unity combined with defaitism and lack of dedication in defending their own country doomed France even before the war started, and even more during its early course. Even such events as petty misgrievances between mistresses of cabinet members were allowed to hamper meaningful action in some cases.

As said earlier this reluctance to enter another bloody war after WWI is fully understable, even though perhaps not very honorable on the part of the french government given how later events turned out. I guess my point is that having a powerful, well equipped army as France definitely had is of little value if you lack the political will to use it.

(First post jay!)
July 25th, 2009  
LeEnfield
 
 
Most the French defence budget had gone itno static defence, they did not have a modern Airforce and they only had six modern single seater fighter aircraft, that is why when Dowding refused to commit any further fighters to France as our Airforce would not be able to hold the German Airforce and this what caused the big rift between France and England. Now of course Dowding was right to save the few fighters he had left for the Battle of Britain
July 27th, 2009  
GreatestAlive
 
 
I think the German's Blitzkrieg was to effective for the French and its Allies to re-act to quickly enough for a good counter-attack or a good defense to materialize.
July 27th, 2009  
mmarsh
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LeEnfield
Most the French defence budget had gone itno static defence, they did not have a modern Airforce and they only had six modern single seater fighter aircraft, that is why when Dowding refused to commit any further fighters to France as our Airforce would not be able to hold the German Airforce and this what caused the big rift between France and England. Now of course Dowding was right to save the few fighters he had left for the Battle of Britain
I dont agree. My Great Uncle was a Photographer on a French Recon Aircraft, he met ME-109 over the border during the "phoney war" (he also served in Vietnam), he said they were good, but not better then they or the RAF were.

In 6 weeks of the Battle of France Germans lost 1200 Aircraft, in fact the first ME-109 ever shot down by a Allied Aircraft was brought down by a French Hawk-75A.

Their Aircraft and Pilots were comparable to the Germans. The French lost because of two major reasons, A) the bungling of the French Government and Military Bureaucracy in the running of the Air Force. And B) Because of their very few numbers, which was due to reason A).

Frankly the Air Force acquitted itself well considering what they were up against.
July 27th, 2009  
A Can of Man
 
 
The end result affects the reputation of those who served.
Not their honor, but their reputation.
July 28th, 2009  
LeEnfield
 
 
mmarsh.......I did not rubbish the French but said that they did not have more than half dozen front line fighters that they could up against the Germans as they had spent all their money on fortifications. Those fighters that they had were good planes but just could not stop any decent attack from the Germans
 


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