Tuesday, October 12, 2010

WOW! #4 Second History Essay

This blog is not really about me, or my family. It's about this.

BUT, I do want to brag about my guys sometimes, and that is what this post is about: Moments that have made my jaw drop. I'm going to keep a running collection of pictures, comments, videos or writing that shines the spotlight on them. Posts to be tagged with "WOW"
Second History Essay, Spring 2010
Its not coming as much of a surprise to my wife that our boys are following up my interests in history, particularly military history and strategy (no-one said I was particularly insightful, but I enjoy understanding why certain battles turned out they way they did and the factors that contributed).
For my oldest's second essay (here is the first), he was able to pick a topic of a major historical event. Much to my enjoyment he picked the Fall of France in 1940. This battle marked the introduction of serious armored warfare  and reintroduction to the concept of mobile warfare after the stagnant quagmire of WWI. He got much less help from me on this one, and turned out another great effort. Well done!

Blitzkrieg and the Fall of France 1940
            Following the conclusion of World War I, tension between France and Germany continued, causing both countries to prepare for probable battle. At the start of 1940, France was thought of as having the “The world’s finest military machine.”(Horne, p25) In 1939 the French boasted: “We shall win because we are stronger.”(Horne, p66) Winston Churchill had said two months after the rise of Hitler: “Thank God for the French army.”(Horne, p66) Unfortunately he was wrong. In one of the greatest modern military conquests, France was defeated by Germany in only six weeks during May and June of 1940.(Horne, p25) Numerous factors contributed to this shocking result including Germany’s desire for revenge because of their loss to the French in World War I (WWI),(Horne, p95) a lack of French leadership and vision, and poor communication between the Allied forces.(Davis, p378) Of all the issues that impacted this history-changing event, the major military causes were the German development of new armored warfare tactics, termed “blitzkrieg”, and the negligence of France in the interwar period to seriously question their military doctrine.
      Both France and Germany suffered seriously in WWI. The Great War coincided with major technological advances, and was fought very differently from previous conflicts.(M.I.S., p i) The new technologies of the machine gun and heavy artillery dominated the battlefield and led to trench warfare.(Corum, p53) The tank was first used in battle at the Somme on September 15, 1916, and was initially designed to be a trench-crossing vehicle.(Corum, p15) Although carrying a lot of firepower, these early tanks were slow, unreliable, poorly armored, and not very effective due to poor tactics.(Hironaka, p6) The French thought tanks were: “Awkward blundering vehicles with little potential for vast independent movement,”(Doughty, p71) and thus believed they should be used to accompany the infantry in offensive movement.(M.I.S., p3) The Germans were impressed by the shock caused by tank attacks and believed with modified tactics, tanks could be much more destructive.(M.I.S., p1)
      France and Germany interpreted the lessons of World War I very differently. Since France had been on the winning side of World War I and their strategies were successful, they felt no need to revise their doctrine.(M.I.S.,  p v) In the 1920’s however, the military “French doctrine” was formalized and was heavily influenced by Marshal Petain, a French military commander of the interwar period. The French doctrine consisted of three major points: The nation in arms, firepower, and the continuous front. The nation in arms was the central French philosophy which was initiated in the Napoleonic era as the “levee en mass.”(Davis, p20) France believed the whole population would have to be mobilized in future wars, which would be fought with the entire resources of the nation. Everyone of military age would be called to arms, and the children, women, and old men would work to support the war effort in hospitals, factories, or farms.
            The second component was firepower. Looking back at World War I, the French believed that the anti-tank gun would dominate over the tank just as the machine gun dominated over the infantry. France had learned from 1914-18 that defensive firepower was often far superior to an offensive attack, and thus the French theorized that one anti-tank gun placed in a fortified position could easily destroy nineteen out of thirty tanks, even if only one shot in four were accurate. In contrast, German studies suggested that one anti-tank gun could destroy merely six out of thirty tanks.(Hironaka, p8) Thus the French put much emphasis on the defensive, and that artillery and anti-tank guns could easily demolish an attacking army. These weapons were also easier for a large, but poorly trained conscript army to use effectively. Because they believed that tanks could not operate independently, French tanks were typically dispersed amongst the infantry rather than held in concentrated formations.(Hironaka, p11) Tanks in 1937 required hours of daily maintenance(Doughty, p7) and were easily disabled by anti-tank weapons, artillery, and air bombing. According to the French doctrine, the infantry attacked, captured, and secured the terrain,(Davis, p45) therefore, tanks were used to support the infantry in these roles. Despite this, by 1940 France had several types of heavy tanks that were superior to the finest panzer tanks. This was never an advantage however because of the tactics favored by the French doctrine.
            The third part of the doctrine was continuous front, a strategy that France held in World War I. The continuous front was an unbroken defensive line that would prohibit their army being outflanked. Historically, outflanked armies were defeated easily. Because of overwhelming firepower, an attacking army could not often capture fortified defensive positions on the continuous front without massive losses, making it a theoretically powerful defensive procedure. Mostly, France feared a surprise German attack that would strike quickly and cripple the French army before it had time to mobilize fully.(Doughty, p90) Since mobilization of the entire French army would take three to four months, it contributed greatly to the decision to fortify borders.(Doughty, p78)
            The French doctrine was spread officially through two publications in the interwar years, “Provisional instructions on the tactical employment of large units” (1921) and a revision in 1936. These were the documents that outlined the French army’s methods, and both stressed the defense. The emphasis was on fighting large, planned battles,(Doughty, p51) the dominance of artillery, and firepower with little consideration given to mobility.(Hironaka, p12) France’s strategy was logical but disastrously ineffective.
            The Maginot line was in many ways a natural outcome of the French doctrine. Many of the French leaders in World War I witnessed the strength of hardened fortifications and became convinced that massive fortification of the border would be ideal for French security.(Kaufmann and Kaufmann, p9) Allowing more soldiers to be placed elsewhere, a fortified front could be held by fewer troops.(Hironaka, p13) Despite the limitations of the treaty of Versailles, France was still distrustful of Germany’s intentions. The former French territories of Alsace and Lorraine had also been returned, requiring new fortifications on the Eastern border to be built. Also many of France’s critical natural resources were near the German border,(Doughty, p76) so when Germany invaded in WWI, the production of coal declined fifty percent, the production of steel declined seventy-five percent and there was almost no production of iron ore.(Doughty, p81) These were vital war materials. Additionally, Paris, the heart of France, was only 125 miles from the border at Sedan, placing it at risk from sudden attack as in WWI. After much debate in the 1920’s France decided to build a series of underground armored forts. In total more than fifty forts were built on the French-German border, and more on the border with Italy and elsewhere in the first half of the 1930’s.(Kaufmann and Kaufmann, p24) The line of forts on the German border was called the Maginot line after the minister of war who had presided over the initial construction.(Kaufmann and Kaufmann, p15) Since they believed the Maginot line to be “impenetrable”, the French became complacent behind their barrier. Major flaws in this fortification strategy included; the vast expense of the construction limited the modernization of the army and the depth of the defensive line, the line was never extended fully to the English Channel, and the French were resting on the illusion of safety behind the line.(Doughty, p67)
             Germany came to very different conclusions from the lessons of World War I than France. Despite losing the war, the Germans actually ended it with superior tactics to the Allies. For example, by 1917 they had developed specialized storm troop assault forces and advanced air force tactics. The treaty of Versailles seriously limited the German military to the size of a border patrol, and eliminated its air force, tanks and heavy artillery. Responding to these limitations, the Germans built a small highly trained professional army instead of relying on the nation at arms. Hans von Seeckt, chief of army command rethought and rewrote the entire body of the German military doctrine. As early as 1921 Germany issued army regulations 487, “Leadership and Battle with Combined Arms”,(Corum, p39) with the understanding that the army would train and prepare for modern war against a modern enemy even if it could not develop weapons because of the Versailles treaty. Germany’s limitations sharpened its tactics. The German high command realized that the next war would not be a repetition of World War I, but a return to a more traditional war of movement. Decisive results would be achieved from offence, penetration deep through the enemy’s lines, and envelopment of enemy armies.(Corum, p30) German tactics emphasized a highly trained officer corps and the use of initiative, even at lower levels in the army, which was in complete contrast to the French. These regulations were revised in 1930 to include new weapons and tactics. In mock battles the German military learned to ignore the continuous front.(Corum, p201) The German key to predicting the future war was understanding that mobility and speed would return to the modern battle.(Hironaka, p17) Germany decided to use the tank as a strategic rather than a tactical weapon,(M.I.S., p1) using the tank’s armor and speed to break through the enemy’s weak point, disorganize the reserves, and smash the enemy from the rear.(M.I.S., p2) Highly important to this tactic, was the speed of the supporting troops. Also air support was a critical factor for routing the enemy, and causing shock and panic.(M.I.S., p3) In the 1930’s, General Heinz Guderian developed the Panzer division and published his accurate predictions of combined arms and armored warfare in “Achtung! Panzer!” in 1936.(Horne, p91) Panzer divisions were to be self-sufficient mobile forces(M.I.S., p3) that combined tanks, motorized infantry, engineers, artillery, pioneers, mobilized anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons,(M.I.S., p4) as well as support troops operating with intense tactical air support.(Corum, p202) Thus each panzer unit had all it needed to fight its own battle in a powerful combination of speed, firepower, and defense.(M.I.S., p1)
            Germany also worked very hard on communication systems for the modern battlefield. Each armored vehicle had its own radio, and every section of a Panzer division could communicate and coordinate with each other. This gave them a huge advantage over French troops that did not have a good communication system. German generals correctly analyzed the dramatic effect on the morale of enemy troops when German troops suddenly appeared at their rear or flanks in combination with intense and accurate bombing. All these factors were important in the development of blitzkrieg.
            An invasion of France doubtless became predictable once Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. The rise of the Nazi party was in part due to the harsh conditions of the treaty of Versailles. Rearming became the top priority of the Nazi government.(Horne, p87) Although former interwar German governments had secretly conducted some rearmament in violation of the Versailles treaty, Hitler openly rejected the treaty of Versailles and ordered the army to triple in size as well as introducing conscription.(Horne, p86) The conscript forces were to support the professional army. Hitler began a massive rearmament in tanks and aircraft, and as early as 1933 Hitler saw a demonstration of Germany’s earliest tank prototype and exclaimed: “That’s what I need! That’s what I want to have!”(Horne, p93) By 1935, the first three Panzer divisions were created. In 1936 Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, which had been demilitarized by the treaty of Versailles. This was Hitler’s riskiest venture. If France had invaded to enforce the treaty, they would likely have won easily and WWII might have been averted, but they didn’t react.(Horne, p83) In 1938 Germany annexed Austria(Hironaka, p6) and took Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. In 1939 they conquered the rest of Czechoslovakia and invaded Poland, which started World War II.(Davis, p372)
            These earlier campaigns gave the Germans opportunities to test and improve their tactics on the battlefield. The German panzer divisions rapidly smashed the unmechanized Polish army and the Luftwaffe wiped out the Polish air force.(Davis, p374) Poland was forced to surrender in less than five weeks.(Davis, p376) After the invasion of Poland western journalists called this new and devastating form of armored warfare “Blitzkrieg”.
            After Poland there was a period of time called the “Phony War” or “Sitzkrieg”. Although France had been warned about how successful the blitzkrieg tactics had been in Poland, France and in particular Gamelin, the military commander in Chief, refused to abandon her politics and prepare for the new methods of German attack tactics.(Horne, p214) Ignoring the new style of warfare, France continued to prepare for the wrong type of war. Her tanks were dispersed and she disregarded air support of the troops. Germany’s invasion, however, was postponed due to the invasion of Norway(Horne, p214) and because an aircraft carrying the plans for the invasion of France crashed in Belgium.(Hironaka, p22) The Germans designed a new plan, which was called “Sichelschnitt”,(Horne, p206) and was executed almost perfectly. A strong diversional attack was used to draw Allied forces out of Northern France and into Belgium.(Horne, p207) Another force arrayed against the Maginot line to tie up those troops. The key thrust of the Panzer divisions was to come through the Ardennes forest, bypassing the Maginot line to the North.(Horne, p242) Since the French considered the Ardennes impassible to tanks, they did not give thought to a major German attack from that direction.(Hironaka, p20) The Germans knew that only second tier units would be defending this region and “Gamelin appeared to remain blind to the danger lurking in the dark woods of the Ardennes.”(Horne, p244) Unexpectedly, the Germans broke through the “continuous front” at Sedan(Horne, p436) and then swung toward the English Channel coast. Smashing through the French defenses at rapid speed, the German panzer units were unstoppable. In only ten days the panzer units reached the coast, surrounding the mass of Allied armies in the North.(Davis, p378) Belgium and the Netherlands surrendered, and the British Expeditionary Force evacuated at Dunkirk, along with a portion of the French armies.(Horne, p630) Having dealt with the Northern armies, the Germans turned south and overran the remaining French resistance.(Horne, p638) France was forced into a humiliating surrender only six weeks after the start of the battle. The French commander reported after the German victory: “This war is sheer madness, we have gone to war with a 1918 army against a German Army of 1939. It is sheer madness.”(Horne, p625)
            Germany and France interpreted the results of World War I very differently. Paul Reynaud, the Prime Minister in the fateful Spring of 1940, had warned in 1935: “While eyes in our land are turned toward the war of yesterday, Germans turn theirs toward the war of tomorrow.”(Doughty, p53) France trained and prepared for an old type of war, and Germany’s panzer divisions crushed them. The German theory of combined armored warfare, “Blitzkrieg”, changed the course of history and set the foundation for modern armored battle.

1. Davis, Paul K. 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford University Press New York 1999. Print.
2. Doughty, Robert A. The Evolution of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939. Master of Military Art and Science, Army command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1976. Reproduced at www.scribd.com, Accessed 02/02/10
3. Corum, James S. The Roots of Blitzkrieg. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence Kansas, 1992. Print.
4. Hironaka, Ann. The Construction of Tank Doctrines in the Interwar Period. International Studies Association Convention, Chicago, Illinois, 2007. Reproduced at www.allacademic.com, Accessed 02/04/10.
5. Horne, Alistair. To Lose a Battle, France 1940. Penguin Books, London, UK, 1969. Print.
6. Kaufmann, J. E. and Kaufmann, H. W. Fortress France. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2007. Print.
7. Military Intelligence Service (M.I.S.). The German Armored Army. U.S. War Department, Washington, 1942. Reproduced at the US army Combined Arms Research Library, www.cgsc.edu, Accessed 02/04/10.

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