Operation Rot (iii)

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This was the German second phase of the conquest of France (5/22 June 1940).

The undertaking had been prepared while the Allies were evacuating Field Marshal Lord Gort’s British Expeditionary Force and elements of Général d’Armée Georges Maurice Jean Blanchard’s French 1st Army from Dunkirk in ‘Dynamo’, the German Panzer forces pinning the beach-head while the infantry formations of Generaloberst Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’ and Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’ held the line of the Somme river which the Germans had reached during the first phase of ‘Sichelschnitt’, with useful bridgeheads at Abbeville, Amiens, Péronne and Rethel for the implementation of ‘Rot’ (iii).

By the beginning of June 1940, the best French armies with the most modern equipment armies had been sent to the northern part of the front and lost in the resulting German encirclement of the Allied armies against the coast of the English Channel and North Sea. As a result France had lost its best heavy weapons and armoured formations. Général d’Armée Maxime Weygand, the French commander-in-chief, was faced with a haemorrhage in the front stretching from Sedan on the Meuse river to the English Channel, and the French government had begun to lose any belief that the Germans could still be halted, especially after the start of the ‘Dynamo’ and other comparable operations such as ‘Aerial’ and ‘Cycle’ to evacuate other trapped forces from continental Europe. This had a decidedly negative impact on the already low state of French morale, lowered still further when on 10 June Italy declared war on France and the UK.

Meanwhile the Germans had renewed their offensive on 5 June across the Somme river, which had marked the southern flank of the ‘Panzer corridor’ to the English Channel coast. A Panzer-led attack toward Paris broke the scarce reserves that Weygand had put between the Germans and the capital, and on 10 June the French government moved to Bordeaux, declaring Paris an open city. Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, returned to France on 11 June, meeting the French war council in Briare. The French wished Churchill to provide every British fighter squadron for the air battle over France but, with only 25 such squadrons remaining, Churchill refused on the correct assumption that France was now effectively lost and that the decisive battle would next be fought over the UK. At the meeting Churchill obtained promises from the commander-in-chief of the French navy, Amiral de la Flotte François Darlan, that the French fleet would not be allowed to fall intact into German hands.

By 4 June Weygand could call on 71 divisions for the defence of central and southern France, whereas the German strength was now 143 divisions, seven more (three from Poland, three from the training army and one from Denmark) than they had deployed for the start of ‘Sichelschnitt’ on 10 May. The German plan was in essence twofold: the armoured and motorised formations of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ and Heeresgruppe ‘A’ were to drive forward from the Somme into central and western France, and the less mobile formations of Generaloberst Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe ‘C’ were to move forward in the region from Luxembourg and the Swiss frontier to pass between the fortresses of the 'Ligne Maginot' before turning to crush the French forces against the line.

In the north, Général de Corps d’Armée Marie Robert Altmayer’s 10e Armée and Général d’Armée Aubert Achille Jules Frère’s 7e Armée faced Heeresgruppe ‘B’, the latter comprising, from the Oberkommando des Heeres’s reserve, General Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s 2nd Army (nine divisions in three corps) and General Adolf Strauss’s 9th Army (12 divisions in four corps), but spearheaded by General Ewald von Kleist’s Panzergruppe ‘von Kleist’ 1 and General Hermann Hoth’s Panzergruppe ‘Hoth’ (Hoth’s own XV Corps [mot.]). In the centre Général de Corps d’Armée Robert Auguste Touchon’s 6e Armée and Général de Corps d’Armée Edouard-Jean Réquin’s 4e Armée faced Heeresgruppe ‘A’ spearheaded by General Heinz Guderian’s Panzergruppe ‘Guderian’ 2. And in the south, in the sector covered by the 'Ligne Maginot', Général de Corps d’Armée Henri Freydenberg’s 2e Armée, Général d’Armée Charles Marie Condé’s 3e Armée, Général d’Armée Victor Bourret’s 5e Armée and Général d’Armée Auguste Marie Emile Laure’s 8e Armée faced General Erwin von Witzleben’s 1st Army and General Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army.

Paris was covered by Général d’Armée Pierre Hering’s Armée de Paris.

By the end of May 1940, the Allies had lost 61 divisions in 'Sichelschnitt', and the French were faced with the prospect of defending a long front, extending from Sedan in the south-east to the coast of the English Channel in the north-west, with drastically depleted French army now lacking significant Allied support. The Allies had a mere 64 French and one remaining British division, and lacked the reserves either to counter a breakthrough or to replace front-line troops should these latter become exhausted from a prolonged battle on a front some 600 miles (965 km) long. On the other side of the front line, the Germans had 142 divisions available, and also possessed total command of the air except over the English Channel.

Another problem with which the French had to cope was that of huge numbers of civilian refugees fleeing the war, and thus vehicles of all types, including horse-drawn wagons and carts carrying possessions as well as people clogged the nation’s roads. The government had not foreseen military collapse as rapid as was now happening, and prepared little or no contingency planning. Anything between 6 and 10 million French civilians fled, even as officials stated that there was no need to panic and that civilians should remain where they were. The scope of this civilian exodus is indicated by the fact that the population of Chartres declined from 23,000 to 800, and that of Lille from 200,000 to 20,000, while cities in the south such as Pau and Bordeaux rapidly grew in size.

The gravity of the French situation was exacerbated in terms of morale if not physically by the Italian declaration of war on France and the UK on 10 June. Italy was not prepared for war and made little impact during the last two weeks of fighting in the Italian invasion of France. The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, was well aware of this and sought to ride on the coat tails of German success. Mussolini felt the conflict would soon end, and apparently said to the Maresciallo d’Italia Pietro Badoglio, the army chief-of-Staff that he needed only a few thousand dead so that he could take his place at the peace conference as a man who had fought. Général d’Armée René Henri Olry’s Armée des Alpes resisted all Italian attacks on the fortifications of the Line Alpine, however, the Italian casualties being 1,247 men killed or missing, 2,631 men wounded and 2,151 men incapacitated by frostbite.

By the first days of June, the Germans knew exactly what they were about to do, but the French were in a more difficult state. While they were discouraged rather than in despair after their defeats in ‘Sichelschnitt’, they were nonetheless very apprehensive at the prospect of facing a triumphant German army without the support of the British and Belgians. The whole of their strategic defence planning had been defeated, and new plans were nowhere near complete, while the whole command structure had been disorganised by the replacement of Général d’Armée Maurice Gamelin as commander-in-chief by Weygand, and by the reorganisation of the command structure after the loss of northern France. And it was here that the first blow of the renewed German offensive was to fall, on the 10e Armée and 7e Armée of Général d’Armée Antoine Marie Benoit Besson’s 3rd Groupe d’Armées (10e Armée, 7e Armée and 6e Armée).

Neither the 10e Armée nor the 7e Armée could offer ant realistic form of defence in depth, being stretched along the lower parts of the Somme river in a series of strongpoints at the rate of one division to every 8 miles (13 km) of a front on which the Germans had seven bridgeheads.

The new offensive was launched on 5 June by the XV Corps (mot.) and the Panzergruppe ‘von Kleist’, the former debouching from its bridgehead at Longpré on the lower reaches of the Somme river and the latter using its XIV Corps (mot.) to push forward from Amiens and Péronne slightly farther up the river. The French resisted stoutly for two days, and von Bock was giving serious thought to the reinforcement of the XIV Corps (mot.) with the XVI Corps (mot.) when he heard that the 4th Army and 9th Army had broken through on the Chemin des Dames to reach the Aisne river at Soissons. Then came the news that the XV Corps (mot.) had also broken through to reach Forges les Eaux. Fanning out as they moved forward still deeper into France, the formations of the XV Corps (mot.) drove to the west and south, key points and dates during its advance being Rouen, Cherbourg (18 June), Alençon, Rennes (18 June), Brest (19 June), Nantes (19 June), Saumur (19 June), Royan (25 June) and St Jean de Luz on the Spanish frontier (27 June).

It should be noted, however, that in the three weeks which followed 5 June, however, the German forces did not wholly enjoy the easy advance they had expected, but in many places encountered strong resistance from a somewhat revived French army. This latter had fallen back on its interior lines of supply and communications, and was therefore closer to its maintenance facilities, supply dumps and stores. Moreover, 112,000 evacuated French soldiers were repatriated via the Normandy and Brittany ports, and helped to offset the losses suffered in 'Sichelschnitt'. The French were also able to make good a significant amount of their armoured losses and raised the 1e Division Cuirassée de Réserve and 2e Division Cuirassée de Réserve, which were heavy armoured formations. Général de Brigade Charles de Gaulle’s 4e Division Cuirassée de Réserve also had its losses replaced. Morale rose and was very high by the end of May 1940.

The rise in morale resulted from three factors: most French soldiers knew of the earlier defeats, but those now entering the line knew of the German successes only by hearsay; surviving French officers had increased tactical experience against German mobile units; and there was a general increase in confidence in the army’s weapons after seeing that the French artillery (recognised in German post-campaign analysis as technically very good) and armour performed better in combat than their German counterparts German armour, and that the French tanks were now known to have heavier armour and armament.

Between 23 and 28 May, the French had managed to rebuild their 7th Army and 10th Army. Weygand decided on hedgehog tactics, which were to implement defence-in-depth operations, and to undertake delaying tactics designed to inflict maximum attritional losses on the German formations and units. In accordance with this tactical concept, Weygand deployed many of his formations and units into villages, small and large towns, and even cities which were readied for all-round defence, Behind these hedgehog dispositions, the new infantry, armoured and semi-mechanised divisions formed in readiness to counterattack and relieve the surrounded units, which were under instruction to hold their positions at all costs.

As noted above, it was on 5 June that Heeresgruppe 'B' attacked to each side of Paris. In its 47 divisions this army group had the majority of the German mobile formations and units. In the first two days of 'Rot' (iii), however, the Germans achieved no major breakthroughs. On the line of the Aisne river, Hoepner’s XVI Corps (mot.) employed more than 1,000 armoured vehicles, two Panzer divisions and one motorised division, but their assault was tactically crude, and Hoepner soon lost 80 out of the 500 armoured vehicles committed in the first attack. The 4th Army did succeed in taking bridgeheads over the Somme river, however, but the Germans struggled to get over the Aisne river, where Weygand’s hedgehog arrangements provided defence in depth and frustrated the crossing. At Amiens the Germans were repeatedly driven back by powerful concentrations of French artillery, and quickly came to recognise a general improvement in the French tactics.

As in 'Sichelschnitt', the German army relied on air power to provide decisive assistance in silencing French guns and enabling the German armour and, most especially, the infantry to inch their way forward. The Germans started to make progress on late on the third day of 'Rot' (iii), when they were finally able to force their desired river crossings. The French air force attempted to bomb the the German river crossings and resultant bridgeheads, but failed. The Germans themselves acknowledged that the battle was hard and expensive in lives as the French offered a strong resistance, and particularly in the woods and tree lines continued to fight even after the German troops had pushed passed the point of resistance. To the south of Abbeville, however, the front of Altmayer’s 10e Armée was broken and this army was forced to retreat to Rouen and to the south along the Seine river.

The speed of the German advances which now began to develop was a sure sign that the French defence was now starting to weaken. Generalmajor Erwin Rommel’s 7th Panzerdivision advanced to the west over the Seine river through Normandy and captured the port of Cherbourg on 18 June: on its progress toward Cherbourg, Rommel’s division on 12 June forced the surrender of Major General V. M. Fortune’s British 51st Division at St Valery en Caux: here the German 'bag' was 46,000 British and French troops.

In the type of close fighting now characterising the land battle, with friend and foe often intermingled, the German warplanes were finding it difficult to achieve the type of success they had enjoyed in breakthrough operations but, in an operational sense, they did help to disperse the French armour. Thus while the German spearheads were overextended and technically vulnerable to counter-strokes, the presence and power of the Luftwaffe made it impossible for the French to concentrate their armoured strength, and the fear of air attack negated their mass and mobile employment by Weygand.

But two days after the start of the offensive of Heeresgruppe ‘B’ offensive, Heeresgruppe ‘A’ had joined the assault farther to the east and added to the agony of France. Here the attack was launched against the 4e Armée by the 2nd Army and 12th Army. Although the French again put up a determined resistance for the day, there was no way in which they could long check the Germans, and later on 9 June the two corps of the Panzergruppe ‘Guderian’ moved into the van and struck out to the south, the XXXIX Corps (mot.) toward Pontarlier on the Swiss border, and the XLI Corps (mot.) toward Belfort slightly farther to the north (22 June).

Meanwhile the Panzergruppe ‘von Kleist’ had been switched from its bridgeheads at Amiens and Péronne before piercing the French front just to the west of Reims at the junction of the 6e Armée and 4e Armée. Paris had been declared an open city on 12 June, the date on which the Germans had generally reached the line of the Seine, Oise and Marne rivers, and the victorious Germans entered the French capital on 14 June as their armoured forces were still debouching to the west and south.

The main task of the southern exploitation fell to the Panzergruppe ‘von Kleist’, which sent its XIV Corps (mot.) forward in two columns, one up the line of the Yonne river toward Creusot, St Etienne and Vichy (20 June) and the other on a more south-westerly route via Briare (18 June) to Angoulême, and forwarded its XVI Corps (mot.) along the upper line of the Seine river toward the Saône and Rhône rivers to reach Dijon (16 June) and Lyons (20 June).

On 10 June, the French government had declared Paris an open city. General Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army was by then deployed against the city, and while the French resisted the approaches to the capital strongly, their line was broken in several places. Weygand now asserted that it would not be long before the French army disintegrated. On 13 June, Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended a meeting of the Anglo-French supreme war council at Tours, and suggested a Franco-British onion, but the French rejected the idea. On 14 June Paris fell, and those of the city’s residents who who had remained found to their surprise that in most cases the Germans behaved well.

By now the situation in the air had also grown critical. The Luftwaffe had established total air supremacy, by comparison with its earlier air superiority, as the French air arm was about to collapse. Between 5 and 9 June, the period in which the Germans flew their 'Paula' (i) air offensive, the French air arm had flown more than 1,815 sorties, 518 of them by bombers, but the number of sorties from from this time onward declined rapidly as it was by now impossible to replace both aircrew and aircraft. The British attempted to divert the attention of the Luftwaffe with 660 sorties flown against targets over the Dunkirk area, but their losses too were heavy: on 21 June, for example, 37 Bristol Blenheim light bombers were destroyed. After 9 June, French resistance in the air came essentially to an end: some surviving aircraft did manage to withdraw to French North Africa. The Luftwaffe was now able to roam over the battlefield and the areas behind it at will as its focused its efforts on the direct and indirect support of the German ground forces: lines and points of French resistance were pounded and then swiftly collapsed under German armoured attack.

Meanwhile, to the east, von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe ‘C’ began its offensives to the south-west and west to co-operate with von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’ in the encirclement and destruction or capture of the French forces of Général d’Armée André Gaston Prételat’s 3rd Groupe d’Armées on the 'Ligne Maginot'. The operation’s object was the envelopment of the Metz region, with its powerful fortifications, in order to prevent any French counter-offensive from the Alsace region against the German line on the Somme. Guderian’s XIX Corps (mot.) was to advance to the south, then the south-east and finally the east to reach the Franco/Swiss border and thus trap the French forces in the Vosges mountains while Reinhardt’s XVI Corps (mot.) attacked from the west into the vulnerable rear areas of the 'Ligne Maginot' to take the cities of Verdun, Toul and Metz.

The French, meanwhile, had moved Général d’Armée Antoine Marie Benoit Besson’s 2nd Groupe d’Armées from Alsace and Lorraine to the 'Weygand line' on the Somme river, leaving only small forces guarding the north-western sector of the 'Ligne Maginot'.

After Heeresgruppe 'B' had started its offensive against Paris and westward into Normandy and thence Brittany, Heeresgruppe 'A' had begun its advance to the south through the rear of the 'Ligne Maginot'. On 15 June, Heeresgruppe 'C' launched 'Tiger' (i) as a frontal assault across the Rhine river and into France.

The limited German attempts to break open or into the 'Ligne Maginot' before the launch of 'Tiger' (i) had failed. One assault on the extreme north of the line lasted only eight hours and cost the Germans 46 men dead and 251 wounded, while just two French were killed (one at Ferme Chappy and one at Fermont fortress). On 15 June, the last well-equipped French forces, including the 4th Army, were preparing to leave as the Germans struck, so the French forces still holding the 'Ligne Maginot' were skeletal. The Germans greatly outnumbered the French, and could call on. They could call on General Kuno Hans von Both’s I Corps of seven divisions and 1,000 pieces of artillery, although most of the latter were of World War I vintage and could not penetrate the thick armour of the fortresses of the 'Ligne Maginot'. Only the 88-mm (3.465-in) high-velocity guns, designed primarily as an anti-aircraft weapon, could inflict significant damage, and only 16 of these excellent weapons had been allocated to forces involved in 'Tiger' (i), which was expected not to come under French air attack. To bolster the 88-mm (3.465-in) guns, a number of 155-mm (6.1-in) weapons and eight batteries of railway artillery were also employed, and the Luftwaffe deployed Generalleutnant Robert Ritter von Greim’s V Fliegerkorps to provide air support.

The battle was difficult, and only slow progress was made against strong French resistance. However, the line’s fortresses were overcome one by one. One fortress, that at Schoenenbourg, fired 15,802 75-mm (2.95-in) rounds at the attacking German infantry, and in return became the most heavily shelled of all the French positions, though its armour protected it from fatal damage.

On the same day that 'Tiger' (i) was launched, 'Kleiner Bär' (i) began as the five infantry divisions of General Eugen Ritter von Schobert’s VII Corps crossed the Rhine river into the Colmar area with a view to advancing to the Vosges mountains. The corps' divisions had 400 pieces of artillery supplemented by heavy artillery and mortars, and drove the French 104e and 105e Divisions back into the Vosges mountains on 17 June.

On the same day Guderian’s XIX Corps (mot.) reached the Franco/Swiss border and the 'Ligne Maginot' defences were cut off from the rest of France. Most units surrendered on 25 June, and the Germans claimed to have taken 500,000 prisoners. Some of the larger fortresses continued the fight, despite appeals for surrender, and the last of these capitulated only on 10 July after a request from Général d’Armée Alphonse Joseph Georges, previously the commander-in-chief of the Allied armies in north-eastern France, and only then under protest. Such was the strength of the 'Ligne Maginot' that of its 58 major fortifications, a mere 10 were captured by the Germans in battle.

The organised resistance of the French had in fact come to an end on 18 June, two days after the installation of Maréchal Henri Philippe Benoit Omer Joseph Pétain as the French leader in place of Paul Reynaud. The latter had refused to entertain the notion of a French surrender, and it was this which had forced his resignation and the appointment of Pétain as his successor. Pétain immediately sought an armistice with Germany, this being signed on 22 June to come into effect on 25 June.

The signature of the armistice document at Compiègne was performed in the railway carriage which had been used in 1918 for the signature of the German surrender. The document divided France into a German-occupied zone in the north and west, and a notionally independent but in actuality puppet state in the south and east with its government based in the spa town of Vichy, which led to the appellation Vichy France.

de Gaulle, who had been made an undersecretary of national defence by Reynaud, was in London at the time of the surrender: having made his ‘Appeal of 18 June’ calling for continued French resistance to Germany, he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Vichy French government and began the task of organising the Free French forces. A few of French colonies, including some of those constituting French Equatorial Africa, immediately adhered to the Free French cause.

As a result of the wording of the armistice conditions imposed on France, the British began to doubt the ability, and indeed the willingness, of Darlan to keep his promise to Churchill to not allow the French fleet at Toulon and in North and West African ports to fall into German hands. In 'Catapult', they attacked French naval forces in Africa, which immediately led to feelings of animosity and mistrust between the former French and British allies.

In their campaign to the west, the Germans had lost about 27,074 men killed and 111,034 more wounded, with a further 18,384 missing, for a casualty total of 156,000 men. In exchange, they had destroyed the French, Belgian, Dutch, Free Polish and British armies in western Europe. The total Allied losses, including the men of the French army who went into captivity, amounted to 2.292 million men. France lost some 90,000 men killed, 200,000 wounded and about 1.8 million taken prisoner. In August 1940 1.575 million prisoners were taken to Germany, where some 940,000 remained until 1945 to be liberated by the advancing Allied forces. In German captivity 24,600 French prisoners died, 71,000 escaped, 220,000 were released as a result of various agreements between the Vichy French government and Germany, and several hundreds of thousands were paroled for reasons of disability and/or sickness. Most of the French prisoners spent their time in captivity as slave labourers.

The UK suffered 68,111 casualties, Belgium 23,350, the Netherlands 9,779 and the Free Poles 6,092.

The great controversy of the Battle of the France is focused on the causes of the catastrophic defeat suffered by the French army and, to a lesser extent, those of the Allies in general. Several theories for these Allied defeats have been advanced. At the time treason was widely suspected. A ‘fifth column’ was supposed to be co-operating with a host of disguised German agents. After the war this was conclusively shown to have been a case of something akin to mass hysteria, but the theory is still repeated in some popular accounts.

In most ways the Allied and German armies were comparably equipped. Both had approximately the same number of tanks and motorised divisions. So far as tanks were concerned, the armour thickness and penetrating power of the main armament of the main tanks of both the French and British were superior to those of their German counterparts. While German small arms may have been somewhat superior to Allied equipment, the Allies had a significant advantage in artillery.

The German advantages did not lie in fielding an army which was generally better equipped, but rather in superior operational and tactical combat performances. The French certainly placed too high a level of reliance on the 'Ligne Maginot', a chain of forts built along most of the Franco-German border. It is undisputed that the French left the strategic initiative to the Germans, but the purpose of the 'Ligne Maginot' was not to serve as a cover-all defence as a way of compelling the Germans to engage the French mechanised forces in the Low Countries. In this regard it was successful and served its purpose. Other military factors that were important in the German victory were Gamelin’s decision to send his best-trained and equipped forces to the north to defend against invasion through the Low Countries; Hitler’s decision, against the advice of the German general staff, to adopt the ‘Sichelschnitt’ plan; the wholly mistaken belief by the French military that the Ardennes region of forests and hills constituted a barrier to a modern, mechanised army, so slowing its progress that an effective defence could be organised before a serious threat could develop, and as result the termination of the 'Ligne Maginot' in the area to the south of the Ardennes and the basing of only second-line formations in the region.

It is often assumed that the French neglected ‘modern’ thinking about armoured warfare, as suggested by the rejection of de Gaulle’s tank warfare tactics by the French high command. The French had in fact built a larger number of modern tanks than the Germans, and these French tanks were on average better armed and better protected than their German counterparts. Also it is untrue that the French armour was divided among the infantry in ‘penny packets’ or even individually assigned to infantry units as support vehicles: even the independent tank battalions were combined in groupements and allocated at army level. However, the French suffered from an inflexible division between infantry and cavalry tanks in tactical terms: the former were insufficiently trained to co-operate with the infantry and so could not execute modern combined arms tactics. In theory the operational doctrine of both armies was based on partly mechanised manoeuvre warfare, but in practice the French shied away from it, while the best German field commanders were so bold as to let it develop into pure Blitzkrieg if and when the situation allowed.

The French communications system relied almost entirely on the public telephone network rather than two-way mobile radio equipment as used by the Germans. The telephone lines were often cut by military action (at the time sabotage was assumed) and often the only way of sending messages to the front was by despatch rider. Allied commanders complained that they often had no information for days and therefore that when it did finally arrive it was hopelessly out of date. Gamelin was criticised for making the Château de Vincennes his headquarters despite the fact it lacked either radio or telephone communications, and was therefore completely reliant on motorcycle couriers. However, the German high command also had poor control of the battle also, although in its case it worked to their benefit. The German army relied on tactics of the mission type, which gave the commanders of smaller formations and units the freedom to exercise a great deal of tactical and operational initiative in meeting the objectives imposed on them by higher headquarters. In contrast, French officers were trained to await guidance from higher headquarters before acting. This explains why the communications difficulties experienced by both sides worked to the benefit of the German army.

The quality and guidance of the German troops in combat were also considerably better than those of the French. This was reflected in the fact that the French population was much smaller and more aged than that of Germany, and France had therefore to draft many older men to form so-called ‘B’ (reserve) divisions, which they then could not train or staff properly as most professional instructors and officers were needed to man the ‘A’ (front-line) divisions. These ‘B’ divisions were placed at positions, such as the Ardennes, where German attacks appeared unlikely.

To compensate for the lack of capability, French infantry doctrine stressed the importance of methodical procedure, but this led to tactical inflexibility. The Germans too had many insufficiently trained reserve divisions, but the infantry units used for the breakthrough all consisted of young and well-trained men. Their officers at the tactical and operational level were considered the best in the world.

Large French losses in World War I meant that France lacked the manpower resources necessary to defend France in 1940. France experienced highly atypical population growth relative to the rest of the western world since the 19th century. During the early 20th century, France experienced almost no population growth, while Germany was growing rapidly. In conjunction with France’s very high casualties in World War I, this caused crippling problems for the French military. The conscripts of the French army were ideally between 20 and 25, meaning that in 1940 they had to be drawn from the generation born between 1915 and 1920. In these years the birth rate was extremely low, because millions of French men were away from home fighting in World War I, when there was a comparatively rigid (at first non-existent) home leave regime among the combatants. France was affected far more adversely than other European countries. The French military referred to this population gap and its effect on the number of available conscripts in the late 1930s and early 1940s as the ‘empty years’.

More controversially, defeatism (or perhaps more accurately a reluctance to fight) among the French in general and French leader in particular was a concept very popular in France. Moreover, several French military and political leaders were reactionary nature hostile to the nature of the French republic, to which they would have preferred a monarchy or even an authoritarian regime. Many were sympathetic to the anti-communist and anti-Semitic ideologies of Nazi Germany. It would thus be no surprise if some chose not to fight the invasion, or even to collaborate with it. Many of such reactionaries in fact collaborated with the Vichy French regime, bit it has never been shown this supposed treasonous attitude had any meaningful impact on the outcome of the campaign.

On 19 July Adolf Hitler, almost ecstatic about the defeat of France, promoted 12 of the senior army and air force commanders of the French campaign to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall, and also elevated Hermann Göring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and already a Generalfeldmarschall, to the new and unique rank of Reichsmarschall. Those promoted to Generalfeldmarschall were Walther von Brauchitsch, commander-in-chief of the army, Wilhelm Keitel, chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Gerd von Rundstedt, commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe 'A', Fedor von Bock, commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe 'B', Wilhelm von Leeb, commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe 'C', Günther von Kluge, commander of the 4th Army, Wilhelm List, commander of the 12th Army, Erwin von Witzleben, commander of the 1st Army, Walther von Reichenau, commander of the 6th Army, Albert Kesselring, commander-in-chief of Luftflotte II, Hugo Sperrle, commander-in-chief of Luftflotte III and Erhard Milch, inspector general of the Luftwaffe.

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This comprised General Gustav von Wietersheim’s XIV Corps [mot.] with Generalleutnant Johannes Bässler’s 9th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Ferdinand Schaal’s 10th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Georg von Apell’s 9th Division, Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm von Rotkirch und Panthen’s 13th Division [mot.], and Oberst Gerhard Graf von Schwerin-Krosigk’s Regiment ‘Grossdeutschland’, and General Erich Hoepner’s XVI Corps [mot.] with Generalleutnant Horst Stumpff’s 3rd Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Johann Joachim Stever’s 4th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Erik Hansen’s 4th Division, Generalleutnant Rudolf Sintzenich’s 33rd Division, SS-Standartenführer Paul Hausser’s SS Verfügungstruppe and SS-Obergruppenführer Joseph Dietrich’s SS Regiment ‘Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’.
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This comprised General Rudolf Schmidt’s XXXIX Corps [mot.] with Generalleutnant Friedrich Kirchner’s 1st Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Rudolf Veiel’s 2nd Panzerdivision and Generalmajor Willibald Freiherr von Langermann und Erlencamp’s 29th Division [mot.], and General Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s XLI Corps [mot.] with Generalmajor Werner Kempf’s 6th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Adolf Kuntzen’s 8th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Mauritz von Wiktorin’s 20th Division [mot.].