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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > History Library > Alternate Timelines

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Alternate Timelines The great "what if's" of military history.

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  #31  
Old 07 Apr 12, 17:09
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In a letter to Mussolini on May 25 Hitler had this to say about the French...


Quote:
Very marked differences appear when it comes to assessing the military capacity of the French. Very bad units rub elbows with excellent units. In the overview, the difference in quality between the active and the reserve divisions is extraordinary. Many active divisions have fought desperately; most of the reserve divisions, however, are far less able to endure the shock which battle inflicts on the morale of troops. For the French, as well with the Belgian and Dutch, there is also the fact that they know that they are fighting in vain for objectives which are not in line with their own interests. Their morale is very affected, as they say that throughout or wherever possible, the British have looked after their own units and prefer to leave the critical sectors to their allies.
Says alot about the "weak reserve divisions myth". I would say that reserve divisions would have been better suited for fortress duties, and anything on the line, not covered by the Maginot, should have been the responsibility of the active units.
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  #32  
Old 07 Apr 12, 20:07
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Hitlers remark is meaningless. The entire French Army was of reservists 95%. All the divisions were constituted of reservists that were called up from civilian status. The small numbers of 19 year old conscripts serving their initial traning when war came in September 1939 hardly constituted a 'active service' army & the career officers and training cadre were not concentrated into 'active' divisions on mobilization. The formations that existed premobilization were either training formations, or border security units. In either case none remained intact through mobilization, they were filled out with reservists, divided, transfered, filled with reservists and divided again.

Career officers were distributed through the army, many holding critical staff positons.

What are usually identified as "active" divisions usually had a high portion of the men under age 30. Those were mobilized first, they were issued the better equipment and had priority for training. That applied to a slightly lesser extent to the "A" series divisions. The B series were those mobilized a month or two after the others, containing the oldest reservists, many of them were used as construction labor during the winter while the first two series trained. The intent was the B series would be withdrawn from the front and begain training in the summer of 1940. They were also to have their equipment completed from new production, and the oldest men replaced with the younger from the 1940 conscription class.

The performance of the various French divisions revolved around the ammount of training they had since mobilization, and the ability of the senior commanders.
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Old 07 Apr 12, 21:14
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Wow. Carl, from reading that, I think the French were no matter what. They had learned from WWI that you needed only a small cadre of professionals and the rest could be made up of cannon fodder that digs. No match at all, no matter how much training you get in 5-6 months, in the field against multi-year professional troops like those that formed the core of the Armored Korps and the better infantry/motorized units. The French mobilization model was tailor made to a trench setup that was no longer viable.
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  #34  
Old 08 Apr 12, 07:50
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I'd recommend then taking a close look at the proportion of reservists to career men in the German army. As with the French, and most other European conscript armies the 'active' portion was a training organization, with some specialised border security units. Siegfried Knappe described in his auto biographical account how his first wave division expanded & reorganized from a peace time training organization to its war time establishment during August 1939. Knappe (Lt in a artillery battery) then describes how in that same month 10% of the divisions officers and NCOs were swapped to another division of a later mobilization wave.

The difference between the French and German armies was the longer initial training period for new conscripts and Lts. Up to three years in the case of Germany, two years or less for the French. That had to do with the fiscal conservatism of the French governments through the 1930s, unwilling to enter deficit spending or raise taxes to pay for additional training of the ground combat forces. Germanys government from 1934-35 started large scale deficit spending to build its military (as well as other things).

There was also a earlier mobilization of selected German units, something that was politically 'difficult' for the French.
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  #35  
Old 08 Apr 12, 08:01
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
If anything, the maliase that Methodical Battle brought to the French army was a major reason for their defeat. The mindset was that the war would be a long one, drag out interminably, and that there was no rush to getting things done.
Their mindset was to eke out their manpower and hold on to the territory (more vital in 1939 than 1914) that they'd lost for most of WW1. They quite reasonably expected a long war that the superior economic strength of the combined British and French empires would prevail.

With apologies for combining different posts but some points are similar ....

Quote:
Originally Posted by TacCovert4
They had learned from WWI that you needed only a small cadre of professionals and the rest could be made up of cannon fodder that digs. No match at all, no matter how much training you get in 5-6 months, in the field against multi-year professional troops like those that formed the core of the Armored Korps and the better infantry/motorized units. The French mobilization model was tailor made to a trench setup that was no longer viable.
Not quite. It was tailored to a style of warfare where defensive lines were punctured quickly but could be rapidly sealed off with artillery bombardments (well, a little more complex but without quoting whole pages of articles ....). It was warfare conducted in a series of short 'hops' where the victor would be the one who could concentrate his firepower fastest and in the greatest numbers. It wouldn't be trench warfare a la WW1 although it would still be pretty static. It's telling that most of WW2 was actually fought like that, apart from a few spectacular examples. What the French failed to do was to allow for any flexibility in their way of warfare thus, when the breakthrough came and the tempo of the campaign increased they had nothing to counter it with. They were better equipped than the Germans, enjoyed at least parity in men (with their allies) and were fighting with much shorter lines of communication, but it meant nothing.
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  #36  
Old 08 Apr 12, 08:11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Full Monty View Post
Not sure that 'holding' Dunkirk is a viable option. Logistics play a major role and whilst, with some effort, supplying the pocket/bridgehead (take your pick) is feasible the cost to the British would be extremely high.
If the British losses had been extremely high so would the German losses be. There was also a large contingent of French forces in the pocket which did a good job of securing the withdrawal of the British forces. If there had been announced a decision to stand, rather than withdraw, the Belgians might also have held on.

Supplies...? During nighttime, as was learnt in the OTL. Plenty of available British supplies that had been landed in the ports down the Channel.

Luftwaffe efforts to annihilate a defended pocket? Good, so much less to be used on the following German campaign.

Could the Germans just neglect an Allied bridgehead? I doubt it as they could not know the condition of the eventual defending forces or the possibilities (or lack) of reinforcements available. The Germans had a tendency to overrate the British in a defensive posture. Therefore, less forces available and more time spent to prepare for the next German move. As it were, the German B-dienst knew what the British were doing and the Germans could prepare for this in leisure.

Turning this on the head: The Germans held Dunkirk till May 1945. Even if the Allies quickly decided to just condone it off the Allieds must have been in a much better position regarding supplies in 1940 than the Germans in 44/45.

If morale has anything to do with this the obvious choice for the British should have been for them to stand and fight with all their might. Instead, they were indignated when the French finally asked for their consent to sign a separate peace with the Germans.......

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  #37  
Old 08 Apr 12, 08:48
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Leandros, I wasn't referring to casualties within the pocket/beachhead but the cost to the British in terms of the aircraft and shipping when supplying the beleaguered troops. That's why I didn't mention the French in that paragraph. I hope that clarifies things for you.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 11:35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Full Monty View Post
Leandros, I wasn't referring to casualties within the pocket/beachhead but the cost to the British in terms of the aircraft and shipping when supplying the beleaguered troops. That's why I didn't mention the French in that paragraph. I hope that clarifies things for you.
But would there be excessive casualties in ships and aircraft if this traffic was performed during nighttime - as was the solution in the OTL? If the same effort was made to supply a bridgehead as it was to evacuate it? If a stand had been made the Luftwaffe would also have to split their efforts on the land battle as well as the Allied supply lines.

If we compare air losses in the OTL of the Dunkirk evacuation the RAF and the Luftwaffe flew approximately a similar number of sorties with similar losses, the Luftwaffe both fighters and bombers, the RAF mainly fighters. From that it can be said, generally, that if the air battle had continued on the same level the Luftwaffe would have little left to support the following campaign into France main, and even less to perform a Battle of Britain later. The main French complaint was on the lack of British air support.

Of course, the decision to stand and fight, or evacuate, would have to be taken some time after May 20th (which it was). The British constantly complained of the lack of orders from General Georges, the French commander in the North, but they were perfectly able to make a decision to evacuate via Dunkirk. They could as well have decided to stand.

There are different opinions on when the British actually informed the French that their intention was to evacuate - not to fight. From General Spears's (he was Churchill's man with Reynaud) memoirs the French High Command for a long time was under the impression that the withdrawal to Dunkirk was not in the intention to evacuate - but to fight there. Spears himself is very keen on covering up any doubt of the fact that the evacuation was the real purpose of the withdrawal, and that the French knew it. Personally, I would not doubt if the British found it in their interest not to talk too much of an evacuation as this was exactly what they did in the Narvik campaign, and at a smaller degree several times in Southern Norway.

Is this important? The British cannot have believed that the French defense would crumble as it did as both Churchill and Spears expressed surprise when they eventually were informed on the lack of immediate French reserves. With other words, it should be obvious to the British that a fighting beachhead would have been of help to the French. How long it could have been kept is another matter. Tobruk must have been more difficult to supply than what Dunkirk would have been. Just my opinion.

The Allied forces pulling back to Dunkirk were worn down but so were the German. It was not ideal panzer country and the BEF had the main part of their equipment intact. If not, how could so much be left on the beaches? The German units pushing on the beachhead were mainly infantry divisions. The British commanders were excellent and they had shown a great ability to shift their forces during the retreat. The main question would be to choose how large an area they should try to defend, dig in, and see to that ammunition and other supplies were brought over from England and down-Channel France. How could they not be able to do that when they were able to evacuate what they did?

The implications of a successful stand in Dunkirk could have been so many even if it in the end had been eradicated. Oh, yes, one could say that then Hitler would have had an easier go at invading England. Not if it had resulted in a French catch-up to defend France main. England would have had less mainpower available but just as much equipment. Well, that would depend on how much had been transferred to Dunkirk. If France had held, the BEF could have been evacuated later - or expanded. If France had held would Hitler have invaded Soviet?

Could France hold? When the Germans attacked the Somme line, only a few days after the Dunkirk evacuation was completed, there had occured a shift in the French fighting attitude. They were still lacking in enough forces to establish a solid line but the policy of defending strongpoints, even if passed by, had developed. Churchill writes a lot about this. He harrassed the French leaders constantly with suggestions of such new tactics (but not his own military leaders). Troops were under transfer from the Italian front, the Maginot Line and North Africa. Splintered units were being reassembled.

In the end, the decisive point would have been if the German leaders had kept their heads cool. If they had ignored a Dunkirk beachhead the result would have been the same, France would have gone down the drain. Would Hitler have managed to sit still with such an ulcer in his a**? Would Gøring have resisted not to continue the air assaults on the BEF. After all he had promised the Führer to eradicate it.

There is one other aspect a Dunkirk beachhead could have achieved. In the OTL the French felt deceived and left out by the British for their unwillingness to use the RAF to its full capabilities and the Dunkirk evacuation. The opposite would have helped Reynaud immensely against the defaistic powers in the French Leadership. Even if France had been undefensible in the end it could have resulted in a French continuation of the war outside France - from their colonies.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 12:04
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Dunkirk wasn't held because it wasn't felt that it could be supplied. As it was the unloading/loading facilities were destroyed pretty quickly making re-supply an awkward and time-consuming affair, even in daytime. Yes the Germans held out around Dunkirk in 1944-5 but there weren't that many of them and they were in the same boat as the civilians .... who were allies of the British and Canadians so starving them out wasn't an option. They posed no threat to the flanks of 21st AG so the pocket could simply be masked.

Regarding air support, the British in Dunkirk complained bitterly about its absence - even though many sorties were actually flown. Only goes to show how trustworthy memoirs and/or other personal accounts can be.

The Germans did indeed rate the British when defending but had no such respect for their attacking qualities. Which adds further weight to the argument that the Dunkirk pocket could have been masked. My feeling is that trying to hold out with little opportunity to affect the course of the campaign and no real prospect of relief would have sapped the morale of the Anglo-French forces there. Once France had been defeated the full force of the Wehrmacht would have been turned against the pocket, not as in the OT just a small percentage. It would have been a turkey shoot.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 17:48
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Quote:
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....
There is one other aspect a Dunkirk beachhead could have achieved. In the OTL the French felt deceived and left out by the British for their unwillingness to use the RAF to its full capabilities and the Dunkirk evacuation. The opposite would have helped Reynaud immensely against the defaistic powers in the French Leadership. Even if France had been undefensible in the end it could have resulted in a French continuation of the war outside France - from their colonies. [/INDENT][/INDENT]
I wonder if this would also require the sacrifice of the other portion of the BEF, the part evacuated from the Atlantic ports in June? Add that in & we are looking at as many as 400,000 trained Brit soldiers lost to the Allies vs that many saved?
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