AR385
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The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 7:53 am

One of my hobbies, aside from aviation, is the history of WWII. I have read many books, but recently, I bought and read one by Sebag Montefiore, about the early years of the war. It deals with the British Expeditionary Force in The Netherlands, Belgium and France, and ultimately the evacuation of the BEF through Dunkirk. This book has received many positive reviews. The issue I have with it, is that it portrays the French forces as lazy, unmotivated, demoralized and undisciplined. While it portrays the British as being incredible, tenacious and disciplined soldiers who fought for France and had to leave because of French incompetence.

Is this an accurate picture?
 
andz
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 8:04 am



Quoting AR385 (Thread starter):
The issue I have with it, is that it portrays the French forces as lazy, unmotivated, demoralized and undisciplined. While it portrays the British as being incredible, tenacious and disciplined soldiers who fought for France and had to leave because of French incompetence.

Sounds typical of my impression of the French. Oh, and one of them will soon point out that it is Dunkerque  Wink
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 8:41 am



Quoting AR385 (Thread starter):
The issue I have with it, is that it portrays the French forces as lazy, unmotivated, demoralized and undisciplined.

Facts are facts. Does it also point out that to be assured to be on the winning side at the end of WWII, the French fought on both sides? The Free French fought with the Allies, while the Vichy French fought with the Axis.
 
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moo
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 10:39 am



Quoting AR385 (Thread starter):
The issue I have with it, is that it portrays the French forces as lazy, unmotivated, demoralized and undisciplined. While it portrays the British as being incredible, tenacious and disciplined soldiers who fought for France and had to leave because of French incompetence.

Pretty much sums it up. We also got a lot of French forces off those beaches as well.

Quoting KC135TopBoom (Reply 2):
Facts are facts. Does it also point out that to be assured to be on the winning side at the end of WWII, the French fought on both sides? The Free French fought with the Allies, while the Vichy French fought with the Axis.

Now thats pushing it a little - Vichy France was created to end the destruction of France after it was blatantly obvious Germany was unstoppable. Do you expect them to fight to every last man, woman and child? Now, their actions during this period are highly questionable...

Also, British actions did much to strengthen Vichy feelings when we sank their fleet at anchor in Mers-el-Kébir - we were actually still an ally of Vichy France at the time (yes, the UK did maintain diplomatic contact with unoccupied France at this time, and closer ties than the British based Free French).
 
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 1:32 pm



Quoting AR385 (Thread starter):
One of my hobbies, aside from aviation, is the history of WWII. I have read many books, but recently, I bought and read one by Sebag Montefiore, about the early years of the war. It deals with the British Expeditionary Force in The Netherlands, Belgium and France, and ultimately the evacuation of the BEF through Dunkirk. This book has received many positive reviews. The issue I have with it, is that it portrays the French forces as lazy, unmotivated, demoralized and undisciplined. While it portrays the British as being incredible, tenacious and disciplined soldiers who fought for France and had to leave because of French incompetence.

Is this an accurate picture?

I just read the same book as well, but I recommend Len Deighton's "Blitzkrieg" to read as well.
France suffered from several problems:
1) France had extremely high losses in WW1, practically a whole generation of young men got killed, mainly through bad tactical decisions by French generals during the first years of the war. Most of these early war generals had started their careers in the 19th century military when it was still closed formations marching over open ground, armed with muzzle loading percussion rifles and flamboiant uniforms.
They never realised the changes which massive use of barbed wire, machine guns or indirectly fired artillery brought to warfare. As a result they again and again ordered suicidical frontal attacks against the German trenches, believing that the true French spirit would only show up in reckless attacks.
The later Mareshall Petain took over later and was liked by both the soldiers and the population for not throwing away his soldier's lives, but instead to thouroughly plan operations with proper preperation by artillery fire etc..
After WW1, military became a dirty word in France, with the general opinion that the the higher ranks used the masses of dead soldiers as stepping stones for their careers.

2) France's military leadership structure:
The (professional) officer's corps was quite detached from the normal conscript soldiers. This led to dissent among the ranks.
While France had on paper the biggest army in Europe, it was a bloated organism. mobilisation went through central depots and caused bottlenecks. Equipment was not stored with the respective units, but in central depots, leading to logistics nightmares.
Many of the higher ranking officers were extremely conservative in their thinking (see the Maginot line). tHey missed the technological advances in armour and aviation (which were recognised by middle ranking officers, like Colonel DeGaulle) and planned for a war to be fought again like WW1. Especially they thought that they would have ample warning of an impending attack by watching the Germans trundle up heavy artillery to the border.
Then, there existed a lack of wireless and telephone communications. Several French generals refused to use modern means of signals, being afraid of eavesdropping, and relied on, much slower, messengers and dispatch riders.

3) As I mentioed, France's army was big on paper, but it basically consisted of three different standards:
A-class units were made up out of physically fit young men and were fully equipped.
B-class units were made up out of older, less fit soldiers and received less equipment and ammunition.
Fortress units (those manning the Maginot line forts) were made up out of soldiers, who were not fit enough for field deployment.
Then, in September 1939 a general mobilisation was ordered, but after a few months of "phony war" it was seen that too many men had been conscripted, since it left the factories (especially the armament factories) without sufficient manpower. As a result soldiers, who were working in those industries were discharged, which led to grumbling from the other conscripts, who had to stay on.
The BEF and French general staffs at first assumed that the Germans would attack, like in WW1, through neutral Belgium. Now the Belgian government was so much afraid of provoking the Germans, that they refused any cooperation with the British and French before an actually German attack.
Now the coastal area in Northern France is due to geographical reasons virtually indefensible. It was noticed early that a possible line of resistance had to be set up in Belgium, where the land starts to become hilly.

Due to not knowing what to expect, the British and French made the following plan:
1) The Germans are highly unlikely to cross the German-French Rhine frontier due to the Maginot line, where the fortress troops are well dug in and able to shoot back.
2) The most likely attack is going to come from the north through Belgium, so let's move all of our best troops up there.
3) This still left a sector in the centre, facing the Ardennes mountains around Sedan. But the roads in the Ardennes are narrow and curvy. French doctrine said that, if you plan to attack, you'll need a massive amount of artillery and ammo. A build-up of artillery and ammo trucks on these narrow roads would be easily noted and A-class combat troops can be moved there fast enough. In meantime cover this are with B-class units.

Next problem was a strong interservice rivalty in the French forces: The airforce had the planes, but no way of bringing aerial reconnaisance information to the respective army units.

So now we have May 1940:
8 months of boredom for the soldiers, staring at the border, are suddenly over. The norway campaign proved a disaster, especially on the French side, not due to cowardly soldiers, but due to major f#ck-ups by the generals.

Against all expectations, the Germans invade the Netherlands first (in WW1 the Netherlands were in a German-friendly neutrality). The Dutch government asks for help. Units of the French army and the BEF are being sent north to assist.
Suddenly the Germans start a surprise attack on Belgium, using airborne units.
The Allies fall back to a defensive position and have to recall the units sent to the Netherlands to prevent them from getting cut off.
What nobody realised at this time is that the attack on Belgium on the Netherlands is just a big decoy.
The real attack comes through the Ardennes, the sector everybody thought to be reasonably safe. The Germans are using new tactics: the fully motorised armoured division with close in support by dive bombers. They do not wait for artillery to come up to soften up enemy centres of resistance, they bypass and outflank them, they move fast (unlike the French and British armoured doctrine, the Germans do not distiguish between slow moving heavily armoured infantry tanks and fast, lightly armoured cruiser tanks to fill the cavalry role). They have motorised engineering units with them to cross obstacles. Field artillery is standartised and towed by trucks or half-tracks.
If resistance becomes too pesky, they call in for an airstrike and bomb the sh#t out off them.
All motorised units in the German army have wireless communication, down to platoon level.
Support and logistics units are equally motorised and able to keep up with the armour and lorried infantry. German strikes could suddenly appear out of nothing.

See that in contrast with the French B-units in the central sector
Infantry is forced to march, accompanied by bumbling infantry tanks. The equipment is moved often by horse transport (ok, this is valid for rear area units in the German army too, but not for frontline attack units).
Very bad communication with the next higher level of command. Very poor intelligence. Officer corps detached from the men with aristocrat allures.
Logistics nightmare.
No wonder the ordinary soldiers in the French Army doubted their chain of command and rather relied on rumours and that the discipline was in many units very bad.
Many soldiers just saw a repeat of 1914-1918, with them being sacrificed for the career improvement of some superior.

Interestingly there were a few units, which fought to the end and later formed the core of the Free French. E.g. DeGaulle led a successfull armoured counterattack at Lille, which only petered out because he could not get the supplies to consolidate his victory.

Jan
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 2:59 pm



Quoting AR385 (Thread starter):
The issue I have with it, is that it portrays the French forces as lazy, unmotivated, demoralized and undisciplined. While it portrays the British as being incredible, tenacious and disciplined soldiers who fought for France and had to leave because of French incompetence.

There's no doubt that, as others have said, AR385, the French were disorganised and badly-led, while the British Expeditionary Force at least managed to 'hold together' and function as an effective military force.

But the main issue was one of numbers. The British never had any need for a vast continental army on the lines of those maintained by the French and Germans. In May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force consisted of only 9 divisions, say 120,000 fighting men; with virtually no armour and very little artillery. By contrast the Germans had about 70 divisions, many of them armoured 'Panzer' forces, and the French more than 100 divisions (though they, like the British, were very short of armour).

So once the Germans broke through in strength on a front of fifty miles, separating the BEF and the French First Army from the rest of the French forces to the south, there was no point in the British staying put - there simply weren't enough of them to make any difference to the outcome. Under French pressure they made one attempt to counter-attack southward, which failed because the opposing German forces were already far stronger; but after that there was no other choice but to withdraw to Dunkirk and be evacuated.

As others have said, they also evacuated most of the French First Army from Dunkirk. And it's worth mentioning that many of the evacuated British troops, plus fresh reinforcements, were sent back to France and fought alongside the French Army in the south until mid-June 1940. Some were again evacuated when the French finally surrendered, but a high proportion were captured.

Also worth mentioning that about 30% of the fighters and light bombers of the Royal Air Force were also committed to, and lost in, the 'Battle of France.' The French kept asking for yet more air support and Churchill very nearly agreed to send it. Luckily he was persuaded not to; otherwise Britain (and therefore the rest of the world) would have lost the 'Battle of Britain' as well.
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moo
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 3:03 pm



Quoting NAV20 (Reply 5):
Luckily he was persuaded not to; otherwise Britain (and therefore the rest of the world) would have lost the 'Battle of Britain' as well.

He wasn't so much as persuaded not to, but rather Dowding and Newall pretty much point blank refused his requests to commit more squadrons to the Battle of France.
 
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 3:39 pm

To be fair to the French forces, the entire Allied army in France was schnookered by the Germans and their own lack of imagination. When the retreat to Dunkirk happened the French fought an incredible rear guard action with an entire Corp of troops (30k men) that fended off German advances long enough to get the British off the beach along with a relatively small number of French troops who later returned under LeClerc.

If not for the action of the French army the BEF would have been captured and the war may have gone very differently.

Of course.....if the French had bothered to hold to their agreements with Czechoslovakia and Poland they would have invaded Germany from the west while the entire German Army was busy elsewhere and forced the Germans to sue for peace and the war would have ended differently. Of course the Jews would have been completely wiped out since no one would have stopped Hitler and WWIII would have happened in the 60s with nuclear weapons.

Hey...did I just channel Turtledove?  Wink

Quoting AR385 (Thread starter):
While it portrays the British as being incredible, tenacious and disciplined soldiers who fought for France and had to leave because of French incompetence.

Again...and I'm no apologist for the completely asinine French high command....and the French population wasn't exactly any more cohesive or less self-indulgent than now....but the incompetency went around and the British were hoping to have their "boys home by Christmas" as well.

Quoting MD11Engineer (Reply 4):
Most of these early war generals had started their careers in the 19th century military when it was still closed formations marching over open ground, armed with muzzle loading percussion rifles and flamboiant uniforms.

They never learned lessons from losing the Franco-Prussian war nor did they bother to learn the lessons of leadership from Tzu or Clausewitz or even Bobs. They repeated mistakes that caused their own troops to mutiny and refused to learn from their ownmistakes (mostly because they refused to accept they were making mistakes).
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moo
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 3:58 pm



Quoting DL021 (Reply 7):
Of course.....if the French had bothered to hold to their agreements with Czechoslovakia and Poland they would have invaded Germany from the west while the entire German Army was busy elsewhere and forced the Germans to sue for peace and the war would have ended differently.

Don't just drop France in it like that - Britain was also a signatory of the France-Poland defence treaty, having signed an annex pledging support to maintain a full and independent Poland a week before the German invasion, so on that front please put the blame on us as well.
 
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 4:04 pm



Quoting DL021 (Reply 7):
They never learned lessons from losing the Franco-Prussian war nor did they bother to learn the lessons of leadership from Tzu or Clausewitz or even Bobs. They repeated mistakes that caused their own troops to mutiny and refused to learn from their ownmistakes (mostly because they refused to accept they were making mistakes).

To be fair, the Prussian military reforms only started after the once allmighty Prussian army received a massive shoeing by the French at Jena and Auerstett during the Napoleonic wars. Up to then the Prussian generals have been basking in the glory of battles 60 years before. They never realised how some short@rse artillerist from Corsica and the introduction of a people's army (in contrast to the mix of mercenaries and against their will conscripts used by the traditional European rulers before) revolutionised warfare.

The Prussia king sacked all generals except for one as a result of this battle and made a whole new generation of young, idealistic offers take their place. For the first time purchase of commissions was abolished. To be come an officer, it was not anymore a requirement to be an aristocrat. Instead the applicant had to pass a tough exam at the new military academy and a wide level of education was required. National service for young men was introduced (opposed again by the aristocrats, who were afraid that giving the plebs military training would lead to a revolution).
A general staff was set up. It's only job was to make plans for about any contingency.
A military academy was opened, which studied the application of scientific and technological advances for warfare.
At the same time civilian reforms took place in Prussia, the country moving from being an agricultural state to an industrial powerhouse. Mandatory schooling and educational reforms increased the general level of education.
An administrative reform introduced a new generation of professional civil servants, promoted on their merits and not on their family lines.
When Bismarck suckered the Napoleon III into declaring war against Prussia in 1870, Prussia was ready. Using telegraph and railway, they had troops in France before the French had even started their mobilisation.

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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sat Feb 23, 2008 4:35 pm

Well MD-11 Engineer, NAV-20 and DL021 have really covered it.

To add though, we have to consider just how devastating WW1 was for France, it was bad enough for Britain and the Commonwealth in terms of a slaughter of a generation, but it had largely been fought on French territory too.
A desire to avoid anything like that again, may seem from out standpoint, pacifism in the face of the emergence of fascism, but for most people then, it was a reasonable way to think. Often informed by personal loss.

The Maginot Line was as much about avoiding a repeat of the trenches, as it was a defensive measure allowing French/Allied forces to mobilise behind it, for a hopefully knock out blow. Home by Christmas this time.

The politics of France in the 1930's was deeply poisoned too, with extremes at each political spectrum as well as a general nihilism.

I agree that a great opportunity was lost in not attacking Germany in late 1939, the bulk of Hitler's army was in Poland, including much of it's modern assets, the Siegfried Line not really then being any kind of real defensive network, largely manned by poorly equipped reservists.
But as stated, the French Army, even with more (and often then better) tanks than the Germans, was far from being a force able to quickly exploit this weakness.
The artillery was old, the what we now call command and control, hopeless.

The BEF had well trained professional troops, but by default this meant a small force.
They had some good kit, armour, artillery etc, but looking at the BEF in 1940 in general, you would not have thought that some British officers between the wars, had been great exponents of the aggressive use of armoured warfare.
When used in some concentration, at Arras, the BEF armour proved it could bite, but in general the shock of the German attack had the BEF as off balance as the French.

Ironically, the evacuation at Dunkirk, proved one attribute of the British Army, tenacious and often skilled defence, but the Highland Division who would provide this cover, paid an very high price for this.

We cannot look at France's defence in 1940, through today's eyes, WW1 had cast such a long shadow.
The numbers of French casualties in 1940, shows they often fought very hard, but the aging French High Command were just no match in any way, of their German counterparts.
The same was essentially true of the BEF too.
 
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 1:51 am



Quoting KC135TopBoom (Reply 2):
Facts are facts.

And opinions are opinions. And that is precisely what your point is, an uninformed and bigoted opinion.
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NAV20
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:03 am



Quoting KC135TopBoom (Reply 2):
The Free French fought with the Allies, while the Vichy French fought with the Axis.



Quoting Pyrex (Reply 11):
And opinions are opinions. And that is precisely what your point is, an uninformed and bigoted opinion.

The point could undoubtedly have been made more tactfully, Pyrex; but the facts - not the opinions - are that the Vichy French DID:-

1. Allow the Germans full access through Syria in 1941 to attack Iraq and threaten the Suez Canal, and fight the British when they occupied Syria to throw the Germans out;

2. Give the Germans unlimited scope to bring supplies in through Tunisia and Algeria for use in the Western Desert, from 1940 on, and then fight the Allies when they carried out the 1942 Torch landings to stop THAT;

3. Give the Japanese land, naval, and air bases in French Indo-China (now Vietnam and Kampuchea) from which to mount the invasions of Burma, Malaya, India, and the Philippines.

The last one is probably the most important. Without those bases, there is no way that the Japanese could or would have entered WW2 and conducted their conquest of the Pacific. So one can say, with perfect justification, that if the Vichy French had had more guts, and stood up to Hitler a bit more, Pearl Harbor and all that followed in the Pacific simply wouldn't have happened.
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 3:59 am



Quoting Moo (Reply 8):
Don't just drop France in it like that - Britain was also a signatory of the France-Poland defence treaty, having signed an annex pledging support to maintain a full and independent Poland a week before the German invasion, so on that front please put the blame on us as well.

You are, of course, correct, and I meant to include the UK with them in the stupidity of the "Sitzkrieg"..... wishful thinking that allowed the Germans time to recover their forces from Poland and attack westwards.

THank you for pointing out my erroneous omission.
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 4:48 am



Quoting DL021 (Reply 13):
I meant to include the UK with them in the stupidity of the "Sitzkrieg".....

I think it's easy to lose sight of what was practical at the time, DL021. As it happens, I had an 'uncle' (actually a cousin, but much older than me) who was a Territorial, a 'Saturday night soldier,' in a famous regiment (London Scottish). He told me about the utter chaos that ensued when they were called up; among other things, having to slap khaki paint on the wornout, requisitioned civilian trucks that were all they had to cart them about - and having to live in tents for most of the 1939/40 winter while the engineers built barracks for them to live in. While other engineers were also building airfields from which the RAF could provide the essential air support.......

There is no way in the world that either the British or the French armies could even have tried to cross the Rhine and invade Germany in September 1939 - they'd have been massacred, however few Germans they were facing. Worth remembering that even in 1944/5, with all the resources of the USA and the Commonwealth fully armed and trained and supplied, and the Germans fully-extended on the Eastern Front, it still took about four months to prepare and mount the Rhine crossing operation that finally ended the European war.

No two ways about it, except in terms of their respective navies, both the French AND the British were utterly unprepared for WW2. Germany itself wasn't all THAT much more prepared, but they were at least fully-trained and equipped, and led by a madman who was also a gambler.

Further, as a matter of historical fact, it wasn't even Hitler who made WW2 possible - it was Joe Stalin. He signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany on 23 August 1939. Ten days after that, confident that he would not face the dreaded 'war on two fronts,' Hitler invaded Poland from the west. Very soon afterwards, Stalin invaded Poland from the east, to grab his share of the spoils....

"Above -- Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov signs the Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact while German Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop and Soviet leader Stalin look on under a portrait of Lenin, August 23, 1939. News of the Pact stunned the world and paved the way for the beginning of World War Two with Hitler assured the Germans would not have to fight a war on two fronts."

http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/pact.htm
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Banco
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:14 am



Quoting DL021 (Reply 13):


Quoting Moo (Reply 8):
Don't just drop France in it like that - Britain was also a signatory of the France-Poland defence treaty, having signed an annex pledging support to maintain a full and independent Poland a week before the German invasion, so on that front please put the blame on us as well.

You are, of course, correct, and I meant to include the UK with them in the stupidity of the "Sitzkrieg"..... wishful thinking that allowed the Germans time to recover their forces from Poland and attack westwards.

The British army could do precisely nothing because - and this is something that people so often forget - British power was predicated on the navy. It is often said that the sea saved Britain, but this is complete nonsense. The sea is not a barrier to any invading force, it is a highway - unless you control that sea.

Britain's command of the sea simply meant that they had no need for a large and powerful army. That British land forces should be outnumbered and outclassed by the Germans (and the French) should not come as the remotest surprise to anyone with historical understanding. The British guarantee to Poland was nothing more than a gesture of solidarity and deterrence. There was NOTHING the British could have done to enforce it.

If you want to comprehend the balance of British forces between naval and land power, then Dunkirk sums it up perfectly. A defeated British army escaped because the navy had complete command of the sea.
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Venus6971
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:51 am



Quoting Banco (Reply 15):
If you want to comprehend the balance of British forces between naval and land power, then Dunkirk sums it up perfectly. A defeated British army escaped because the navy had complete command of the sea.

This why the Germans were never able to project power other than on European continent, it also spelled the 3rd Reichs doom and also the Kaiser Wilhelm's. They were a frigate Navy with small force of Capital ships and U boats. Ships like the Prinze Eugen and Bismarck without a carrier task force to protect them is lunacy . It is also a point in history that an english speaking Navy has not lost a war in over 300 years. The Japanese Imperial Navy knew this, they were a British trained Navy when they formed or modernized in the 19th Century and only lost because of a overwelming industrial might of the U.S. plus having lost 4 irreplacable carriers and aircrews at Midway spelled their doom. In 1945 I don't believe the JIN had one carrier still afloat. Yamamoto knew he had only a small window to knock the US out of the war in under a year after Dec 7th. I bet he knew it was a lost cause after Pearl Harbor when he found out the U.S. carriers were at sea and the submarine pens and fuel depots were untouched.
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baroque
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 11:32 am



Quoting GDB (Reply 10):
Well MD-11 Engineer, NAV-20 and DL021 have really covered it.

to which I can add GDB.

That lead in was most unfair to the French especially to those who in the later stages covered the British retreat from Dunkirk. If they were so hopeless, how did so many get to the Dunkirk bridgehead and escape to fight again?

Quoting NAV20 (Reply 14):
No two ways about it, except in terms of their respective navies, both the French AND the British were utterly unprepared for WW2. Germany itself wasn't all THAT much more prepared, but they were at least fully-trained and equipped, and led by a madman who was also a gambler.

I would just add that, in 1939, the French and Brits probably had an advantage in gun tanks which they had lost by 1940. The disparity in the airforces was probably greater in 1939 than it was in 1940, so arguably France and Britain would have been worse off on balance.

The Ardennes strategy of Hitler and the slowness of the French to understand how to fight blitzkeig doomed them to defeat. As someone pointed out, when too late at Arras, the British showed what could have been done, but the battle was lost by then, and Herr Schickelg thought he had won the war.

The Free French made quite a formidable fighting force later in the war. They had their defeats, but overall they had their victories. And without the help of many of the Vichy French, Torch would have been a lot more difficult, and maybe even a failure, although Monty's ghost will argue that no longer mattered as he was half way there by then.

Many of those I have known who were on active service in 1942, say that more than Alamein, the pressure went off as Stalingrad took its toll. So never forget the Russians.

Shock above all was what got the French in 1940, and it got the Russians in 1941, and the US and UK in late 41 and early 42. At Stalingrad in 1942, shock got the Germans too!
 
Banco
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 11:46 am



Quoting Baroque (Reply 17):
so arguably France and Britain would have been worse off on balance.

No, I would disagree there. The point remains that British naval prowess was the main defence of the country, not the army or the air force. The British advantage was so utterly huge here that it far outweighs the other elements. A German invasion was never going to be possible as long as Britain had that navy, with or without air supremacy. The losses would have been appalling to the RN if the Germans had control of the skies, but the Germans could never have hoped to land troops in Britain, they'd have been cut to pieces.

The naval side is often overlooked or downplayed. You even see chapters of history books covering "The War at Sea" as if it were some kind of sideline to the main event. Complete nonsense. The winning of the naval war was THE most critical strategic part of the entire war.
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baroque
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:03 pm



Quoting Banco (Reply 18):
Quoting Baroque (Reply 17):
so arguably France and Britain would have been worse off on balance.

No, I would disagree there. The point remains that British naval prowess was the main defence of the country, not the army or the air force.

Happy to agree there is much room for differences there Banco. Agree about the Navy, but the problem with Sitzkreig was that the battle there would have minimal influence from the sea. Aside from the Graf Spee, 1939 was arguably about the worst the British Navy had in WW II. It too was not ready for a U-boat war. Its tactics were still poor.

Anyway, advancing across the Rhine plain was not going to be helped a great deal by the Navy. Indeed sitting still was arguably a strategy dictated by the greater strength of the Navy, but in the short run, it did not help a great deal.

The one thing the (British and French) generals thought they knew was that the defending side had an enormous advantage. Done their way, alas this was wrong.

Before selling me the Navy as the salvation (which it was to some degree) how about an explanation of continuing to send indefensible convoys mainly with coal through the straits of Dover in mid 1940. With that splendid example of a waste of all of, naval, merchant navy and fighter resources, I shudder at some of the other things the navy of 1940, let alone 1939, might have done.

One might also wonder why the Navy apparently did not push harder for resources to flow into Coastal Command. Half the Wellingtons lost in futile attacks in 1939 and 1940 on Germany (the leaflets went down particularly well I understand) could have made merchant ship losses a good deal smaller.
 
Banco
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:20 pm



Quoting Baroque (Reply 19):
Agree about the Navy, but the problem with Sitzkreig was that the battle there would have minimal influence from the sea

Precisely. And nor was it ever going to. The British for 200 years had concentrated on maritime power, and it was the perfect decision for a nation who by happy accident of geography could control the European sea lanes. It never was a question of under-investment or under-concentration in the army, it was merely the necessary outcome of a strategy that suited British interests down to the ground. It would be pointless to lament a weak British army in 1939 when the truth is that the army was not then, nor ever had been, critical to British interests. The navy was. Countries with land-borders require powerful armies. Islands do not.

Quoting Baroque (Reply 19):
One might also wonder why the Navy apparently did not push harder for resources to flow into Coastal Command.

The navy pushed extremely hard for air resources, but they were hampered by the idiotic decision in 1918 to create the Royal Air Force at the expense of an independent naval aviation branch. The very different requirements of naval aviation were never remotely satisfied by an RAF intent on protecting their own position. The lack of co-operation from the RAF is one of the bitterest inter-service complaints of the period.
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Banco
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:30 pm



Quoting Baroque (Reply 19):
Before selling me the Navy as the salvation (which it was to some degree) how about an explanation of continuing to send indefensible convoys mainly with coal through the straits of Dover in mid 1940. With that splendid example of a waste of all of, naval, merchant navy and fighter resources, I shudder at some of the other things the navy of 1940, let alone 1939, might have done.

That all elements of the services made mistakes is hardly breaking news. And the losses of those particular convoys didn't make the slightest strategic difference.

All parts of the war effort had to learn over the early years of the war, there's nothing new there. 1939 wasn't that bad a year for the navy. 1942 was by far the worst, as they strained to overcome the U Boat menace. Given the disaster upon disaster that straddled the early war years, the navy did a pretty outstanding job overall. And I repeat, it was the most important theatre of the war. Had the navy failed, Britain would have been defeated within days. No other service had such a responsibility. Had the navy failed, there would have been no American re-inforcement. Had the navy failed there would have been no D Day. Utterly and totally critical. WWII was the navy's finest hour.
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baroque
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:40 pm



Quoting Banco (Reply 20):
Quoting Baroque (Reply 19):
Agree about the Navy, but the problem with Sitzkreig was that the battle there would have minimal influence from the sea

Precisely. And nor was it ever going to. The British for 200 years had concentrated on maritime power, and it was the perfect decision for a nation who by happy accident of geography could control the European sea lanes. It never was a question of under-investment or under-concentration in the army, it was merely the necessary outcome of a strategy that suited British interests down to the ground.

We are at cross purposes here I think. The point was that perhaps the French and Brits might have been in a better position attacking in late 1939 than defending in mid 1940. Especially in gun tanks, they should have had an advantage as the Mark III only came into widespread use during 1940. The Char and I tanks were available and arguably better than the Mark IIs forming the bulk of the German forces. By 1940 more Mark IIIs were available.
 
NAV20
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 1:10 pm



Quoting Banco (Reply 15):
British power was predicated on the navy. It is often said that the sea saved Britain, but this is complete nonsense. The sea is not a barrier to any invading force, it is a highway - unless you control that sea.

Further to that, the biggest mistake that Hitler made was not to develop any means of mounting a cross-Channel invasion, and instead to assume that the British would surrender once he had occupied the whole of mainland Europe. Even if he had 'won' the Battle of Britain he would very probably have come to grief if he'd tried an invasion - through his lack of any means to keep his armies supplied and reinforced during the winter of 1940-41.

By contrast, the biggest thing that Churchill did RIGHT, as soon as he came to power in 1940, was to give priority to the design and development of landing-craft and the all-important LSTs ("Landing Ships - Tank"). Despite that early start, though, the shortage of landing-craft was to bedevil Allied strategy right through the War. There were never enough of them. Right through 1944 priority had to be given to the Normandy invasion and the subsequent supply of the Allied armies in France. It was not until early 1945 that the port of Antwerp was captured and opened; until that time most of the supplies still had to come in across the Normandy beaches.

No landing-craft could be spared to allow the (mostly British) forces in Italy to carry out further landings to outflank the German defences there, so they had to push forward the hard way, mountain by river by mountain by river..... The shortage even affected strategy in the Far East, by causing the abandonment of plans to carry out a seaborne invasion of Burma across the Bay of Bengal. The British and Indian forces in that region had instead to undertake a very bloody land campaign to push the Japanese armies there all the way back from the frontiers of India to Rangoon.
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Pyrex
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 4:32 pm



Quoting NAV20 (Reply 12):
if the Vichy French had had more guts, and stood up to Hitler a bit more, Pearl Harbor and all that followed in the Pacific simply wouldn't have happened.

Doubtful. Japan was in a war path in that area since 1933, I don't think it would be a few semi-abandoned French troops in Southeast Asia cut off from their mainland that would stop them.

Quoting Banco (Reply 18):
A German invasion was never going to be possible as long as Britain had that navy, with or without air supremacy.

Perhaps, but a few german U-boats in the mid-Atlantic came very close to basically starving Britain out. It could be argued that if the U.S. hadn't entered the war when it did, with massive amounts of Liberty ships and naval escorts for them, there was bugger all the RN could do to stop the much inferior German navy from slowly defeating the country.

Quoting Banco (Reply 20):
for a nation who by happy accident of geography could control the European sea lanes

I wouldn't call occupying Gibraltar and the Suez Canal (at that time) a "happy accident of geography"...
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GDB
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Sun Feb 24, 2008 5:27 pm

While losing the Battle Of The Atlantic would have impeded the UK's ability to prosecute the war, it still would have taken much more to force an outright capitulation.
Rationing in the UK was in the immediate post war years, at times more severe in some respects than during the conflict.

But, it did not happen, the U-Boats were decimated in WW2, the tide had turned against them by 1943, it was further downhill after that for them, they could not impede the massive trans-Atlantic highway that allowed the Allies to land in Europe in 1944.
Or before then, Operation Torch, the landings in Sicily, then Italy.
Indeed, a major factor in the defeat of the Afrika Korps was the serious damage done to their supply train, contrast that with the situation for the Allied forces in that period.

The victories in North Afrika, though in manpower terms, a seeming sideshow to the Eastern Front, were a major strategic defeat for the Axis powers.
And the RN in large part, with the casualties that came from both the intensity of the battles and their sheer determination, was the service who made it possible.
Look how quickly the modern Italian Navy was undermined due to a small group of Swordfish bi-planes at Taranto in 1940, this raid being of great interest to an Japanese Naval Attache at this 'impregnable' naval port.
He would be one of the architects of the attack on Pearl Harbour.
Il Duce's fleet was not out of the war, but they never recovered either.

The Russian Front too, the USSR was at least initially, quite dependent of supplies from the Western Allies, but even after Soviet industry mobilised, moved when necessary, provisions such as decent trucks, jeeps etc, were still important, if not as glamorous, as all those T-34 tanks.
How did these supplies reach them?
The Arctic Convoys.

In 1942, the RN was engaged in the Battle Of The Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, now the Arctic Convoys-plus those German capitol ships needed to be kept in port.
Small wonder that even the biggest navy in the world could only send inadequate resources to the Far East.

The trouble the Navy had, still has, in projecting this importance to the nation as a whole, started with the WW1 Battle Of Jutland.
That was a major strategic defeat for Germany, despite the heavier RN losses, but for the British public, it wasn't enough.
It was not a Trafalgar, this time fought with steel Dreadnoughts powered by coal.

Neither was WW2, no one great clash of fleets, in a single decisive action.

Even today it goes on, (I'm not advocating a big fleet expansion here, rather what was promised be funded), a recent article in The Times sneering that the two large carriers to be built, 'won't help an army fighting in the desert'.
It's big boys toys rather than kit for the infantry-which happens not to be true anyway.
The author castigating the RN for it's lack of utility post war, even cites the Falklands as an example 'of a battle won on land'.
How the hell does he think the ground (and air) forces got there, kept them supplied, some real life Scotty from Star Trek beaming them 8000 miles?
 
fumanchewd
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 12:31 am



Quoting MD11Engineer (Reply 4):
1) France had extremely high losses in WW1, practically a whole generation of young men got killed, mainly through bad tactical decisions by French generals during the first years of the war. Most of these early war generals had started their careers in the 19th century military when it was still closed formations marching over open ground, armed with muzzle loading percussion rifles and flamboiant uniforms.
They never realised the changes which massive use of barbed wire, machine guns or indirectly fired artillery brought to warfare. As a result they again and again ordered suicidical frontal attacks against the German trenches, believing that the true French spirit would only show up in reckless attacks.

The same can be said of the British and Russians.

The Russians thought the war would be over by winter because the sheer number of troops that they sent over. The problem was that many were auxillary such as farmers. Many had no uniforms, many had no shoes, quite a few had no adequate weapons, and most had no training. Throw that into a highly skilled and equipped German army with recoiless artillery while the Brits, French, and Russo's were dragging 50 year old 75 mm horse drawn cannons into battle and you are screwed! On top of that the Russos had the worst leadership of them all. Just look what happened to General Samsonov and his men at the onset of the war.

Some would argue that the British made some of the worst decisions of all. On the first day of the Battle of Somme the British sent troops through no-mans land against heavily fortified and well entrenched positions. After having countless men cut down, they were to send them again and again. By the end of the day over 57,000 British troops died.

The Germans were well trained, well equipped, and had a better understanding of modern warfare. It is interesting that many German commanders were to study the American Civil War for the latest tactics.
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NAV20
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 1:32 am

Quoting Pyrex (Reply 24):
Doubtful. Japan was in a war path in that area since 1933

No doubt about that, Pyrex - but military operations depend on bases from which to mount them. Vichy lost no time at all in granting bases and rights to station troops in Indo-China to the Japanese, they did it almost immediately after they surrendered in 1940:-

"On August 30, 1940, the French Vichy government signed the Matsuoka-Henry Pact granting Japan the right to station troops in Indochina and use bases there for movement of forces elsewhere in the region."

http://countrystudies.us/laos/10.htm

The Japanese mainland is some 3,000 miles from Singapore and 2,000 from the Philippines. Without the Indo-Chinese bases furnished to them by the French, particularly airfields, the Japanese would have been unable to attack either. So, as I said, the concessions made by Vichy made Japanese entry into WW2 possible.

Quoting Pyrex (Reply 24):
It could be argued that if the U.S. hadn't entered the war when it did, with massive amounts of Liberty ships and naval escorts for them, there was bugger all the RN could do to stop the much inferior German navy from slowly defeating the country.

In fact, during 1942, the opposite was true. The RN and the Royal Canadian Navy had to come to the rescue of the USA. There was 'bugger all' that the US Navy could do to stop the U-boats sinking huge amounts of shipping, particularly tankers, along the Eastern Seaboard; and it was necessary for the British to send 34 of its own sorely-needed convoy escorts to help out. In addition the Canadian Navy provided escorts for all sea routes north from New York.

"The Paukenschlag boats arriving on the United States east coast in January 1942 found the merchant fleet sailing unescorted and with lights on at night. There was no radio discipline; ship and shore stations operated as if in peace time, broadcasting time signals and weather reports. Shoreside cities blazed with lights at night. The U-boats, hardly believing the bonanza offered them, rampaged up and down the coast with impunity, sinking everything in sight. Operation Paukenschlag lasted but 10 days, during which 25 ships totaling about 200,000 tons were sunk. Not a U-boat was damaged much less sunk. Those five boats were only about 12 percent of the U-boats at sea but they accounted for 70 percent of the Allied shipping sunk in January 1942.

"Ladislas Farago, in his book "The Tenth Fleet", states the situation succinctly; "In the next fifteen months, the United States was to suffer a defeat compared with which Pearl Harbor was but a slap on the wrist." The United States had entered the war ill-equipped to fight the U-boats in the Atlantic and the price was about to be paid for the failure to plan and prepare.

"Paukenschlag was only the first taste of what was to come. The U-boat commanders vied for the chance to take part in the "American Shooting Season" as it was called in Germany."


http://uboat.net/allies/ships/us_10thfleet.htm

The US Navy had virtually no anti-submarine capability or training when it entered WW2 - it appears to have been assumed hitherto that submarines would mainly attack coastal shipping and that the Coastguard would be able to cope. Worse, the USAAF had no anti-submarine capability or training at all; and the US Navy didn't have the right kind of aeroplanes in service.

It was the usual problem that affects democracies - they are never ready for war because most of the money gets spent not on weaponry and standing armies but on other, more useful, things. Personally I prefer things that way - but there is no doubt that the costs of such inevitable unpreparedness can be very high at first.

[Edited 2008-02-24 17:34:40]
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NAV20
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:04 am



Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 26):
It is interesting that many German commanders were to study the American Civil War for the latest tactics.

Sorry, had to smile at that, Fumanchewd - can't believe that they learned anything useful from the tactics employed in the Civil War!  Smile;

"Burnside launched his second attack from Fredericksburg against the Confederate left on Marye's Heights. Wave after wave of Federal attackers were mown down by Confederate troops firing from an unassailable position in a sunken road protected by a stone wall. Over the course of the afternoon, no fewer than fourteen successive Federal brigades charged the wall of Confederate fire. Not a single Federal soldier reached Longstreet's line.

"On December 15, Burnside ordered his beaten army back across the Rappahannock.The Union had lost 13,000 soldiers in a battle in which the dreadful carnage was matched only by its futility. Federal morale plummeted, and Burnside was swiftly relieved of his command."


http://www.civilwarhome.com/fredricksburgbattle.htm
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fumanchewd
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:24 am



Quoting NAV20 (Reply 28):
Sorry, had to smile at that, Fumanchewd - can't believe that they learned anything useful from the tactics employed in the Civil War! Smile;

"Burnside launched his second attack from Fredericksburg against the Confederate left on Marye's Heights. Wave after wave of Federal attackers were mown down by Confederate troops firing from an unassailable position in a sunken road protected by a stone wall. Over the course of the afternoon, no fewer than fourteen successive Federal brigades charged the wall of Confederate fire. Not a single Federal soldier reached Longstreet's line.

"On December 15, Burnside ordered his beaten army back across the Rappahannock.The Union had lost 13,000 soldiers in a battle in which the dreadful carnage was matched only by its futility. Federal morale plummeted, and Burnside was swiftly relieved of his command."

http://www.civilwarhome.com/fredrick...e.htm

And that is without machine guns or trenches!

No worries! I read it in a history book and am not aware of what was specifically studied. I think I recall that one of the German high-ups was fond of Grant though. I will try to find the passage.
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NAV20
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:49 am



Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 29):
And that is without machine guns or trenches!

They had trenches all right, Fumanchewd - Lee's nickname among the ordinary soldiers was 'The King Of Spades', everywhere they stopped he set them digging. There were even cases of them stringing wire across their front to slow the attackers down (though barbed wire came later).

Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 29):
I think I recall that one of the German high-ups was fond of Grant though.

Grant was arguably the best of them - or the worst of them. He saw very clearly that he had inexhaustible supplies of men and ammunition, and that Lee had neither; so all he had to do was 'push on,' as he put it, and the Confederacy would eventually collapse. Unlike previous Union generals, who lost one battle and then retreated, he lost numerous battles, but then attacked AGAIN.....

I've never really read anything about any war as spine-chilling as his dispatch after the Battle of the Wilderness, only 6 days into his 1864 campaign:-

"NEAR SPOTTSYLVANIA C. H., May 11, 1864—8.3O A.M.

"MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington, D. C.

"We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. The result up to this time is much in our favor. But our losses have been heavy as well as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time eleven general officers killed, wounded and missing, and probably twenty thousand men. I think the loss of the enemy must be greater—we having taken over four thousand prisoners in battle, whilst he has taken from us but few except a few stragglers. I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and purpose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer"
.

http://www.bartleby.com/1011/52.html
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Banco
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 4:51 am



Quoting NAV20 (Reply 27):
In fact, during 1942, the opposite was true. The RN and the Royal Canadian Navy had to come to the rescue of the USA. There was 'bugger all' that the US Navy could do to stop the U-boats sinking huge amounts of shipping, particularly tankers, along the Eastern Seaboard; and it was necessary for the British to send 34 of its own sorely-needed convoy escorts to help out. In addition the Canadian Navy provided escorts for all sea routes north from New York.

That was down to the sheer incompetence of the USN's Admiral Ernest King, a man of whom it was said that the war effort would have gone much better "had he been taken out and shot". King was a total Anglophobe, and as a result refused to accept any advice as to how the western Atlantic ought to be protected and patrolled from either the RN or RCN. The fact that they'd learned the hard way what was necessary wasn't of any interest to King, who knew best, and didn't think much of convoys. As a result of his scandalous ineptitude, it was a slaughter. As it was pointed out by the British, if King was so stupid as to sacrifice American ships, and the US command was going to let him, that was one thing, but now British ships were also being sunk on a regular basis.

Quoting Pyrex (Reply 24):
I wouldn't call occupying Gibraltar and the Suez Canal (at that time) a "happy accident of geography"...

If you don't appreciate the strategic importance of the UK's location in naval terms, that's your problem. As for those two, yes, they made the Royal Navy's strategic position even better.

Next.
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NAV20
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 2:26 pm

About the French, Churchill (who, whatever else he was, was a gifted writer) provides a vivid impression of the confusion that followed the German attack. On May 11th., 1940, only six days after the German attack (and his own appointment as Prime Minister) he flew to Paris to meet with the French Government and High Command. A few paragraphs from his memoirs are enough to show that, in the space of just a few days, the French had irretrievably lost the will to fight - and were already resigned to the Germans capturing Paris:-

"16 May 1940

"The Commander-In-Chief briefly explained what had happened. North and south of Sedan, on a front of fifty or sixty miles, the Germans had broken through. The French army in front of them was destroyed or scattered. A heavy onrush of armoured vehicles was advancing with unheard-of speed towards Amiens and Arras, with the intention, apparently, of reaching the coast at Abbeville or thereabouts. Alternatively they might make for Paris. Behind the armour, he said, eight or ten German divisions, all motorised, were driving onwards, making flanks for themselves as they advanced against the two disconnected French armies on either side.

"The General talked for perhaps five minutes without anyone saying a word. When he stopped there was a considerable silence. I then asked, “Where is the strategic reserve?” and, breaking into French, which I used indifferently (in every sense), “Ou est la masse de manoeuvre?” General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, said, “Aucune (there is none).”

"There was another long pause. Outside in the garden of the Quai d’Orsay clouds of smoke arose from large bonfires, and I saw from the window venerable officials pushing wheel-barrows of archives on to them. Already therefore the evacuation of Paris was being prepared."
"Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards.." - Leonardo da Vinci
 
swatpamike
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:49 pm

Hello All


Take everything you read about History with a grain of salt. My point of view about something that happened 60 years ago could be very different then yours.

Having said that from the many books I have read about the first year of WW2 the general lack of motivation of the French forces has come up many times. Having not been there I can't say for sure.

If you wish to consider something look at the fact that both the English and French did nothing after Germany invaded Poland when the majority of the German Army was in the East dealing with Poland. A quick attack into German could have ended the war in a few weeks.

Cheers

Swatpamike
 
dl021
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 4:06 pm



Quoting Banco (Reply 15):
then Dunkirk sums it up perfectly. A defeated British army escaped because the navy had complete command of the sea.

I do believe that the German navy was preoccupied, but you will remember that the evacuation at Dunkirk involved more fishing boats than warships (not to denigrate the warships that participated under fire. The RN and the German Navy were occupied elsewhere, with the Channel guard being forced to maintain position there were'nt that many vessels available, and almost no purpose built troopships. Destroyers and minesweepers did yeomans work, and the courage of the civilians in their fishing boats, motor yachts and even sailboats was extraordinary (indicative of the spirit that carried the British through the worst of the Blitz) but the Army escaped because the German Navy was occupied elsewhere and the French Army fought a rear guard action that kept the Germans at bay for the length of time needed....an entire French Army Corps was sacrificed for this effort and without them it would not have worked.

Quoting NAV20 (Reply 14):
There is no way in the world that either the British or the French armies could even have tried to cross the Rhine and invade Germany in September 1939 - they'd have been massacred, however few Germans they were facing. Worth remembering that even in 1944/5, with all the resources of the USA and the Commonwealth fully armed and trained and supplied, and the Germans fully-extended on the Eastern Front, it still took about four months to prepare and mount the Rhine crossing operation that finally ended the European war.

I respectfully disagree. It would have been logistically difficult, but the main problem wasn't forces available....the French Army and BEF could have invaded and occupied a good chunk of Western Germany prior to the Germans being able to disengage from Poland (remember that the Russians were there too and they had to consider that fact) but for the lack of political will.

Quoting Banco (Reply 15):
British power was predicated on the navy. It is often said that the sea saved Britain, but this is complete nonsense. The sea is not a barrier to any invading force, it is a highway - unless you control that sea.

Agreed there. The sea stopped being a barrier when man built ships strong enough to make reasonably safe passage possible.

Quoting Banco (Reply 15):
The British guarantee to Poland was nothing more than a gesture of solidarity and deterrence. There was NOTHING the British could have done to enforce it.

Disagreed there, but it's academic. Guarantees should not be symbolic.....they should be meant and backed by force or they are worthless.
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GDB
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 6:01 pm

The slaughter of the Somme cast a large shadow over the British, for many years to come.
The original BEF of 1914, again small, professional, had badly surprised the Germans at first.
But this force, the cream of the British Army, was ground down and suffered large attrition as the stalemate took hold.

As a result, by 1916, the army relied upon mass conscription, even the large volunteering of 1914/15, could not make up the numbers as this whole new way of war emerged.
So, the commanders only allowed the most basic of infantry tactics to be tried-the infamous 'walking across no man's land'.
The British being a largely professional army for many years, had an ingrained pessimism about conscripts ability to do anything more, though the German and French armies disproved this time after time.
However, the same mistake was not made when WW2 meant the UK had to again, re-introduce conscription.
 
pelican
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 6:57 pm



Quoting NAV20 (Reply 14):
Further, as a matter of historical fact, it wasn't even Hitler who made WW2 possible - it was Joe Stalin. He signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany on 23 August 1939. Ten days after that, confident that he would not face the dreaded 'war on two fronts,' Hitler invaded Poland from the west.

Which in the end turned out as a very clever move. The Soviet Union became one of two superpowers after the war. And the victory gave new live to the already exausted communism. Sure the people of the Soviet Union payed a very high price, but I'm quite certain the loss of some 25 million lives didn't bother Stalin much...

Quoting Venus6971 (Reply 16):
This why the Germans were never able to project power other than on European continent, it also spelled the 3rd Reichs doom and also the Kaiser Wilhelm's

Agreed for WWII but the strategic situation in WWI looked different.

Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 26):
The Russians thought the war would be over by winter because the sheer number of troops that they sent over. The problem was that many were auxillary such as farmers. Many had no uniforms, many had no shoes, quite a few had no adequate weapons, and most had no training. Throw that into a highly skilled and equipped German army with recoiless artillery while the Brits, French, and Russo's were dragging 50 year old 75 mm horse drawn cannons into battle and you are screwed! On top of that the Russos had the worst leadership of them all. Just look what happened to General Samsonov and his men at the onset of the war.

The biggest problem for the Russians was probably the body of officers which was heavily decimated by Stalin's terror. If you just look on the number of tanks and planes you'll come to the coclusion the Russian's didn't lack equipment.

pelican
 
fumanchewd
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 8:59 pm



Quoting Pelican (Reply 36):
Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 26):
The Russians thought the war would be over by winter because the sheer number of troops that they sent over. The problem was that many were auxillary such as farmers. Many had no uniforms, many had no shoes, quite a few had no adequate weapons, and most had no training. Throw that into a highly skilled and equipped German army with recoiless artillery while the Brits, French, and Russo's were dragging 50 year old 75 mm horse drawn cannons into battle and you are screwed! On top of that the Russos had the worst leadership of them all. Just look what happened to General Samsonov and his men at the onset of the war.

The biggest problem for the Russians was probably the body of officers which was heavily decimated by Stalin's terror. If you just look on the number of tanks and planes you'll come to the coclusion the Russian's didn't lack equipment.

Sorry for the confusion, but my post was speaking of the Russians in WWI. (Samsonov committed suicide on the field in 1914 after his defeat) I was responding to those who believed that the French were inept in WWI l and I wanted to point out the the British and Russians had their share as well.
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pelican
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:23 pm



Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 37):
Sorry for the confusion, but my post was speaking of the Russians in WWI. (Samsonov committed suicide on the field in 1914 after his defeat) I was responding to those who believed that the French were inept in WWI l and I wanted to point out the the British and Russians had their share as well

I see and I should have noted that before because you're clearly talking about Samsonov.  banghead 

pelican
 
MD11Engineer
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:30 pm



Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 26):
The Russians thought the war would be over by winter because the sheer number of troops that they sent over. The problem was that many were auxillary such as farmers. Many had no uniforms, many had no shoes, quite a few had no adequate weapons, and most had no training. Throw that into a highly skilled and equipped German army with recoiless artillery while the Brits, French, and Russo's were dragging 50 year old 75 mm horse drawn cannons into battle and you are screwed! On top of that the Russos had the worst leadership of them all. Just look what happened to General Samsonov and his men at the onset of the war.

The Russian losses were oner reason for the soldiers flocking to join the revolutionaries later. BTW, while the WW1 Western Front is quite well known in Germany, very little is known about the fighting on the Eastern Front (both my Great-gransfathers on my father's side served there as NOCO's).

Jan
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dl021
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:43 pm



Quoting GDB (Reply 35):
But this force, the cream of the British Army, was ground down and suffered large attrition as the stalemate took hold.

Thrown away by generals who refused to stop sending their boys over the lines instead of making use of newly available technology as it became available (i.e tanks and motorvehicles intended for transporting troops to avoid assaulting into machine gun fire naked).

I believe that the Generals were still thinking in terms of forming square and lining up on open fields, while the troops were getting the education in modern warfare their leaders should have gotten from notes in the Spanish-American War and others about the use of terrain and mechanized weaponry.

Quoting GDB (Reply 35):
The British being a largely professional army for many years, had an ingrained pessimism about conscripts ability to do anything more, though the German and French armies disproved this time after time

Their generals had no faith in the "mob" and refused to try to conserve their forces by adopting new tactics.

Quoting Pelican (Reply 38):
I see and I should have noted that before because you're clearly talking about Samsonov.

Why are we discussing Russian luggage manufacturors?  Wink
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:12 am

Quoting Swatpamike (Reply 33):
If you wish to consider something look at the fact that both the English and French did nothing after Germany invaded Poland when the majority of the German Army was in the East dealing with Poland. A quick attack into German could have ended the war in a few weeks.



Quoting DL021 (Reply 34):
I respectfully disagree. It would have been logistically difficult, but the main problem wasn't forces available....the French Army and BEF could have invaded and occupied a good chunk of Western Germany prior to the Germans being able to disengage from Poland

One hears this so often - and one can't blame the A.netters concerned, because so many professional historians have 'second-guessed' the British and French leaders of the time and said the same thing.

But no-one ever seems to look at the timescale.

"On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The Polish army was defeated within weeks of the invasion. From East Prussia and Germany in the north and Silesia and Slovakia in the south, German units, with more than 2,000 tanks and over 1,000 planes, broke through Polish defenses along the border and advanced on Warsaw in a massive encirclement attack. After heavy shelling and bombing, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 28, 1939. Britain and France, standing by their guarantee of Poland's border, had declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland on September 17, 1939. The demarcation line for the partition of German- and Soviet-occupied Poland was along the Bug River."


So less than four weeks elapsed between the declaration of war by the Allies and the final surrender of the Poles. A glance at this map will show that the real fighting was over far earlier than that, As soon as it became clear that the Germans had broken through the Polish defences on all fronts (which in fact had occurred before France and Britain even declared war) Hitler could safely have transferred plenty of land and air forces from Poland to the Western Front at any time after that, if he'd needed to.

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/media_nm.ph...g=en&ModuleId=10005070&MediaId=431

And all Hitler's forces were already mobilised. Does anyone believe that the French and British, from a standing start, could have called up and equipped all their reservists and assembled sufficient forces and equipment to cross the Rhine and break through the Siegfried Line, all in the space of a couple of weeks?

Because that's all the time that was available.

[Edited 2008-02-25 18:19:07]
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:55 am

The Rhine was, of course, eventually crossed in WW2; by the British Second Army in 1945. The operation required 29 divisions, including two airborne divisions, amounting in all to over a million men; plus enormous quantities of river-crossing and bridging equipment. Even so, the task of crossing the river and subduing the Siegfried Line took about two months (March-May 1945) to accomplish.

"The Rhine Crossing, code-named 'Operation Plunder', involved twenty nine divisions, two of which were Airborne, numbering over one million men. The Canadian First Army to the north and the American Ninth Army to the south were initially to play supporting roles to the main thrust by the British Second Army between Rees and Wesel.

"The area chosen for 'Operation Plunder' lay to the north of the Ruhr, the centre of the German war economy and heavily garrisoned. A breakout here combined with an American breakout from Remagen to the south of the Ruhr would ultimately lead to the encirclement and elimination of the Ruhr garrison.

"The main assault was to be in the British Sector for logistical reasons. The heaviest concentration of roads on the west bank of the Rhine was here. By 19th March, 1945, the Royal Engineers had amassed 25,000 tons of bridging equipment at Goch, less than twenty miles from the river and ready to be used to accelerate the build-up of troops on the far bank."


http://www.wartours.com/rhine.html

Another problem in 1939, of course, would have been that they wouldn't have been able to mount the operation from Holland, as the Allies did in 1945. They'd have had to attack from France, way to the south, probably through Saarbrucken. That would have meant that they wouldn't have been able to threaten any really-significant parts of Germany (in industrial or political terms), like the Ruhr or Berlin itself. Heidelberg's a lovely town, well worth visiting; but capturing it in 1939 (even if they could have managed it) would hardly have brought Hitler to his knees begging for mercy?  

[Edited 2008-02-25 19:02:42]
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baroque
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Tue Feb 26, 2008 6:45 am



Quoting GDB (Reply 35):
The original BEF of 1914, again small, professional, had badly surprised the Germans at first.

Only when French (General Sir John, not the French nation) slipped up and let them face forward.  Wow! See B Tuchman's account of the great Sir John during the great retreat.

I am not sure of the balance, but even by 1915, the British army was largely dependent on conscripts. There was a reason for the Somme stupidity, the French (nation this time not Sir John) needed to have some pressure taken off their fronts, especially, but not only Verdun. If Verdun fell, there was little doubt the Germans would have prevailed.

As for casualties, in 1916, Sir John Monash and effective tanks were yet to come. Artillery barrages also lacked a number of critical factors for them to be effective. Those in command in 1916 were amateurs compared with what was to come.
 
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:25 pm



Quoting Baroque (Reply 43):
Artillery barrages also lacked a number of critical factors for them to be effective.

Like for example proper timing. The concept of walking fire (the artillery barrage moving slowly forward, keeping the enemy's heads down, which the infantry following right behind the zone of impacts) was not yet developed. I understand that at the battle of Loos there was a one hour gap beween the artillery stopping firing and the infantry attacking, nore than enough for the dug in German machine gunners to re-occupy their positions.
Also, a typical British WW1 attack was not infantrymen running leap frogging and zig-zagging from cover to cover, giving each other protection. They had to walk slowly and upright to the German lines, carrying a huge amount of equipment and tools to refortify captured enemy trenches and to "turn them around" (like digging a firing step on the rear sideand using sandbags to strenthen the rear edge).
the "stosstrupp" concept, using small, independent, lightly equipped infantry units armed with grenades, flame throwers, light machine guns etc. to capture enemy strongholds and to hold them against counterattacks until reinforcements arrive, was only developed by the Germans late in war (from it derive all modern infantry tactics).
The German army was always giving NCO's and junior officers more tactical responsibility. A German platoon leader would be told which objective he was to capture, but the how to do it left to him. Anybody in the German chain of command was expected to take over for his next higher superior at any time, should he become a casualty.

Jan
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baroque
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Tue Feb 26, 2008 1:58 pm



Quoting MD11Engineer (Reply 44):
Also, a typical British WW1 attack was not infantrymen running leap frogging and zig-zagging from cover to cover, giving each other protection. They had to walk slowly and upright to the German lines, carrying a huge amount of equipment and tools to refortify captured enemy trenches and to "turn them around" (like digging a firing step on the rear sideand using sandbags to strengthen the rear edge).

Yes, Jan, except you cannot really say there was a "typical" mode of attack because they changed so much over the 4 years. The last up and walk in daylight was mid 1915. My father was in the regiment next to the one that did that last attack. After that it changed.

By the time Monash, and some of the Canadian and perhaps fewer still British generals had organized all arms attacks, the whole lot was coordinated from the artillery barrages (including creeping barrages) to air cover, integration of tanks and NOT marching into machine guns with fixed lines of fire. That and the coming weight of US troops rolled back the German line in from mid 1918. Between then and 1915, both sides had learned a great deal.

Probably without Monash, similar developments would have come but basically it was a bad day for Germany when the ANZACS withdrew from Gallipoli and Monash went to Europe. Still, if Bean and Murdoch (yes the father of the current Murdoch) had had their way, Monash would not have been in command. That story just about requires a thread of its own - suffice to say that the original spelling of his family name was Monasch.
 
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Tue Feb 26, 2008 11:54 pm



Quoting Baroque (Reply 43):
As for casualties, in 1916, Sir John Monash and effective tanks were yet to come. Artillery barrages also lacked a number of critical factors for them to be effective.

Not to mention that the British and French weren't even using howitzer's at the beginning of the war. The 75s would, for the most part, just fly over and around the trenches. The recoil of the piece would also cause it to move back a considerable distance. The men would then guesstimate where it was fired last and amend their trajectory in a fairly inaccurate manner.

The Germans had howitzers that had a higher angle of trajectory, thus coming down ontop of the trenches and men. Most had some type of recoilless system as well.

It was only at the end of the war that the allies finally had large howitzer's to match the Germans.

There were many reasons why the French/UK/Russians had twice as large of a casualty rate as the Germans.
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MD11Engineer
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:04 am



Quoting Fumanchewd (Reply 46):
There were many reasons why the French/UK/Russians had twice as large of a casualty rate as the Germans.

One more reason was that the German troops were usually better dug in than their Alllied counterparts. Especially the British command wanted the frontline trenches to be as uncomfortable as possible. Their reasoning was that if the trenches are too safe and comfortable, the men would refuse to go "over the top". So Bitish soldiers were forced to sleep in "funk holes", narrow slots dug into the rear wall of a trench, giving protection neither against shell fire nor rain and cold.
The Germans on the other hand used concrete in large amounts and built comfortable dug-outs reaching several meters underground, with bunk type beds and tables for the men, which were also reasonably shell proof.

Jan
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Arrow
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Wed Feb 27, 2008 12:21 am



Quoting Banco (Reply 31):
That was down to the sheer incompetence of the USN's Admiral Ernest King, a man of whom it was said that the war effort would have gone much better "had he been taken out and shot".

It's my understanding that those words came from none other than Eisenhower. You have to wonder how much more quickly the US Navy would have become a useful force in the Atlantic if King had not been around. And, more poignantly, how many more American merchant sailors might have survived the onslaught. I think the U-boats called that brief period the second "happy time."

King apparently also refused to believe the Ultra intelligence handed to him daily; again letting his Anglophobia get in the way of his judgment. How do people like that get that high up in command? Meanwhile Kimmel, on the west coast, is kept out of the Japanese intelligence loop and gets court-martialed because he didn't see Pearl Harbour coming.
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RE: The Battle Of Dunkirk

Wed Feb 27, 2008 3:33 am

The basic problem the Allied commanders faced in WW1 was the same one faced by Union generals in the American Civil War; that the enemy was content to remain on the defensive, and therefore they were condemned always to attack carefully-prepared positions.

The Germans were in the same boat at first. Their units suffered dreadful casualties in 1914, advancing literally 'shoulder to shoulder' in the open against people like the British Regulars, each of whom was trained to fire up to 30 aimed rounds per minute, and therefore mowed them down with relative ease. But from 1915 onwards, it was almost always the Allies who had to attack.

However, all sorts of different tactical approaches were tried. The traditional 'fix bayonets and charge!' approach was pretty well abandoned early on. The next step was the 'preliminary bombardment'; the reason why the British on the Somme advanced in 'open order,' carrying all sorts of extra gear to dig themselves in on their objectives, was that it was assumed that the weeks of bombardment which had been carried out beforehand would have eliminated the German defences, and even cut the barbed wire.........

After that all kinds of things were tried, including surprise attacks, 'creeping barrages,' and even mines dug and exploded under the German trenches (as at Messines). But nothing worked, and even if there were early successes the attacks always 'bogged down' early on; bogged down literally, because the bombardments themselves had largely made the ground impassable.

Tanks began to make their appearance in 1916 but there were few of them, they were used in small numbers to support the infantry rather than operating on their own, and they of course only too easily 'bogged down' as well. It wasn't until 1917 that the officers of the newly-formed Tank Corps (led by a relatively-junior officer, Col. J.F.C. Fuller) were allowed to develop sutiable tactics and use tanks in what was to become their proper role.

This resulted in the battle of Cambrai in November 1917. The tankers were trained and used to go first; crushing the barbed wire, clearing the German trenches, and even dropping huge bundles of brushwood called 'fascines' into the trenches themselves to allow following tanks and infantry to cross them and immediately attack the next line.

http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/cambrai.htm

There were a number of ironies about Cambrai, the main ones being:-

1. The reason the Cambrai sector was chosen was because it had never been attacked before - it was considered too strongly-fortified. But that meant that the ground hadn't been chewed-up and the tanks were able to manoeuvre. Fuller had insisted that there should be no 'preliminary bombardment' at all, for the same reason.

2. The tanks and following infantry broke through all three German trench lines in the first few hours; and had open country in front of them. But this very success caused the eventual failure of the operation. Back at headquarters the staff officers, accustomed to all previous attacks making only slow progress, simply couldn't believe the reports they were receiving; and therefore didn't order the reserves and exploiting forces (which included, incredibly, a force of 10,000 cavalry) forward in time to consolidate and exploit the success. In any case, the attack had always been viewed more in the nature of an experimental 'raid,' and the planners had never envisaged an actual 'breakthrough.'

3. That failure to 'reinforce success' meant that the Germans had time to regroup and reinforce. In due course they counter-attacked - and after two weeks of more traditional 'trench warfare' the two sides were pretty well back where thay had started, with roughly equal casualties.

4. Up to that time the Germans had not set much store by the tank, because up to then it had been relatively easy to deal with. But Cambrai woke them up to its possibilities. One General Staff officer, Major (later General) Heinz Guderian, was particularly impressed; so much so that he pretty well made the development of tank-based 'blitzkrieg' tactics his life's work, culminating in the publication of his book, 'Achtung Panzer!", which spelled out the tactics that the Germans were to use to such effect in Poland in 1939 and the Battle of France in 1940.....

[Edited 2008-02-26 19:40:19]
"Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards.." - Leonardo da Vinci

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