Operation Tiger (i)

This was a German half of the final phase of the military defeat of France, namely the offensive by Generaloberst Erwin von Witzleben’s 1st Army of Generaloberst Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe ‘C’ through the supposedly impregnable defences of the 'Ligne Maginot' (13/22 June 1940).

The undertaking was the northern half of a pincer designed to meet General Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army, in ‘Bär’ (ii), in the region of Epinal and Nancy, so trapping the 17 divisions of Général d’Armée André Gaston Prételat’s 2ème Groupe d’Armées, which comprised Général d’Armée Charles Marie Condé’s 3ème Armée, Général d’Armée Eduard Jean Réquin’s 4ème Armée, Général d’Armée Victor Bourret’s 5ème Armée and Général d’Armée Jeanny Jules Marcel Garchery’s 8ème Armée.

‘Tiger’ (i) was launched between St Avold and Saarbrücken as the armoured formations of General Heinz Guderian’s Panzergruppe ‘Guderian’, within Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe ‘A’, were pushing decisively to the south from Châlons and the fortress city of Verdun between the upper reaches of the Marne and Meuse rivers, so threatening the rear of the 2ème Groupe d’Armées.

‘Tiger’ (i) began two days before ‘Bär’ (ii), and von Witzleben pushed forward seven divisions through the Maginot Line defences against Général de Corps d’Armée Louis Eugène Hubert’s Détachement ‘Sarre’, comprising single French and Polish infantry divisions. The Germans at first made negligible progress against determined resistance, but during the night of 14/15 June Hubert was ordered to fall back as part of a movement to align the 2nd Groupe d’Armées between Geneva and Dole, which eased the task of the 7th Army in ‘Bär’ (ii).

Greater weight was added to these twin operations by the subordination of the Panzergruppe ‘Guderian’, together with General Ernst Busch’s 16th Army on its left, to Heeresgruppe ‘C’ by an Oberkommando des Heeres order of 17 June. Guderian immediately ordered his formations to wheel 90° left, General Rudolf Schmidt’s XXXIX Corps (mot.) being directed toward Belfort in support of the 7th Army, and General Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s XLI Corps (mot.) being directed toward Epinal in support of the 1st Army.

Thus the 2ème Groupe d’Armées was caught between three infantry armies pushing forward from the Maginot Line, and two armoured/motorised corps in its rear. Prételat had been separated from his command by now, with Condé assuming overall control in his stead, but the 400,000 men of the 2ème Groupe d’Armées (together with the 2ème Armée of the 1er Groupe d’Armées) were cut off when Generalmajor Friedrich Kirchner’s 1st Panzerdivision met the 7th Army at Montreux les Vieux on 19 June. The French were now short of ammunition and other vital supplies, and the pocket between Epinal and Colmar surrendered on 22 June.