MILITARY HISTORY ONLINE

User:  
Password:  
 
 (1939-1945) WWII
Message
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 1004
Joined: 2005
Dunkirk
6/8/2023 12:28:18 PM
Hi all,

Brian G published a couple of really interesting posts on the 'this day in history' thread on the general history forum. I think this is a topic that merits further discussion and debate.

Quote:
Quote:
Brian :

“ … a defeated, ill-armed, srategically pathetic nation.”

Harsh words.

Are you alluding to the British or the French, or both ?

Not to mention Belgian and Dutch forces.

The British deployed more than a third of a million men on the Western Front, the French six times that number. That’s not knowledge on my part, so the figures are offered with diffidence. Both armies had loads of stuff : tanks In great numbers, artillery likewise. The material left behind at Dunkirk attests to lavish mechanised support.

As for aircraft, I’ll rely on you to inform us : there must’ve been significant air power available to the allies.

I wonder if the Germans attributed the miraculous to the speed of their win.

Regards, Phil

I’ll admit to offering a harsh judgment, Phil. I did so sensing it would be an unpopular move. But it seems there must be reasons for such a debacle.

I’m alluding (good choice of word) to England, France, Belgium thee Netherlands and, to some extent to Germany. But my focus was on Britain.

Only 18 days lapsed between Germans crossing the various borders and the British hoping to save some 30,000-40,000 troops from going into the bag suggests something was wrong with something somewhere. I would start with strategic errors. Assuming Germany would follow the same routes which kept them from early victory in WW1 doesn’t seem to support much strategic assessment of a German force which had been on display for some years, and had been demonstrated in Poland with some proof of effectiveness. I’d add some tactical idiocy. Holland and Belgium, in their stance about positive neutrality, would not so much lose to Germany as commit suicide.

I admit that some of the issues here were a result of alliances and agreements which might have left Britain unable to act freely. But I see no indication that the British didn’t agree whole-heartedly with their allies (and soon to be allies).

You mention the large number of British and French troops prepared to face Germany. The British army wasn’t facing the Germans; it was facing the Belgians, who had a large number of troops in underground bunkers or in forts like Eben-Emael, meant to stop Germany infantry cold but falling to 85 paratroops within 24 hours. France was probably Helium’s role model, with the undefeatable Maginot Line the Germans simply moved around.You talk about mechanized support, but what I read amounts to mechanized presence but little actual co-ordination and a lack of intelligence to use the tanks and artillery effectively. The loss of that mechanized equipment could have been critical; it was nevertheless not employed effectively in France. What could have been mechanical support became mechanical debris.

You mention air support. At the time, there were 3 major branches of the RAF: Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Coastal Command. A further contingent – what had been 1 Group of Bomber Command and an equivalent Fighter Command Group, IIRC – had reformed on 24 August 1939 as the Advanced Air Striking Force, a support force for BEF troops. Their chief a/c were three: the Fairey Battle, Bristol Blenheim I – both classified as bombers – and the Hawker Hurricane as fighter support.

No-one need say anything about the Hurricane; it would become an effective defender against German bombers during the Battle of Britain, but it was not as agile or effective as the German Bf 109-E (Emil) or -F (Freddy). The Blenheim I (and its replacement, the Blenheim IV – named the Bolingbroke by the RCAF) was by 1940 too light and too slow to survive as a “fast bomber”, a vital concept when it came on line in 1937. The Fairey Battle – I hope to say something more about this a/c a bit later – was a prime example of an aircraft which was only built to meet numbers. Its bomb load was limited to 4 x 250 lbs, dropped from wing cells; its defensive armament was 1 x .303 mg; it had a crew of three. It was categorized as a “tactical bomber and fighter aircraft”. In fact, it was simply a design abomination to meet government budgeting methodology under successive 10-year military assessment.

In case you don’t get the vulnerability and ineffectiveness of the Battle, left me offer this from the Wikipedia article “RAF Advanced Air Striking Force”:Quote:
The Battle of France began with the German invasion of the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. The Battle squadrons suffered 40 per cent losses on 10 May, 100 per cent on 11 May and 63 per cent on 12 May. In 48 hours the number of operational AASF bombers fell from 135 to 72. On 14 May the AASF made a maximum effort, 63 Battles and eight Bristol Blenheims attacked targets near Sedan. More than half the bombers were lost, bringing AASF losses to 75 per cent. The remaining bombers began to operate at night and periodically by day, sometimes with fighter escorts.
From 10 May to the end of the month, the AASF lost 119 Battle crews killed and 100 aircraft. Experience, better tactics and periods of bad weather from 15 May to 5 June led to losses of 0.5 per cent, albeit with a similar reduction in effectiveness.


France was begging for more RAF a/c as Dunkirk appeared as a chance to save troops. Churchill and the War Cabinet were prepared to send them, but for the balls of Sir Hugh Dowding, who argued against WSC that Britain could not afford to send more fighters in a lost cause. Dowding’s argument saved the day; the extra squadrons stayed at home. IMHO, he paid a steep price for his commitment to RAF FC’s survival.

And then there’s the RN. Like other branches of the armed services, the RN faced a 10-year rule which defined what kind of ship it could build. I would add to this – and this is a nasty comment – that there are indications that RN practices, training and focus had still not caught up with WWI reality. Specifically, they had few ships capable of shallow draft work except for corvettes and auxiliary ships like drifters, both of which were so slow they were easy targets. The “Little Boats of Britain” is a wonderful children’s story, and i shows how gutsy and brave citizens can be. But it only came about because the RN had neither ships, plans nor capabilities to extract defeated troops from an increasingly enemy controlled beach.

This post has gotten too long to start looking at the frauds of the Ten Year Plans. But I do want to say, before the thread gets inundated with comments about the bravery of the Tommies and matelots and aircrew, that none of what I have said insults the PBI or his equivalent. I’m just offering some comments on why I think Dunkirk so easily led to a disaster.

I have in my library a delightful little first-edition volume published in 1941 in New York by The Macmillan Company. The author is noted as “Captain Sir Basil Bartlett, Bt.”; the title is [/]My First War: An Army Officer’s Journal for May 1940 Through Belgium to Dunkirk. I feel it necessary to not he dedicated the volume to his CSM!

Sir Basil was dragged off the beaches of Dunkirk in late May. I want to share his last entry: Quote:
…[T]omorrow I am going home. There’s too much wrong with me. I’m mint back to London to be treated by my on doctors for concussion nd fractured teeth and a fractured jaw.

I seem to have lost about a stone in weight.

The newspapers are full of the story of the evacuation from Dunkirk, of its discipline, of its wonderful organization. ell, it didn’t seem particularly well organized to me. Perhaps it’s got better since I left. The important thing is that the men are still being taken off.

There’s something almost miraculous in the British powers of improvisation.

I suppose that, in history, this campaign will count as a first-class military defeat. But it wasn’t.

He’s thinking of his men and what they have endured. I get it. I’m thinking about why it should never have come to Dunkirk. So I disagree.

Just some thoughts and explanations …

Cheers
Brian G


Initially, I'll offer my view that despite the clear German victory, it was a victory against the odds. The German generals expected their initial offensive to fail, or at least not be so wildly successful. The Allies were more or less well appraised of the German military, and felt they could hold on until 1941/42 when the British Empire would have fully mobilised (I presume they counted on support from the Commonwealth, again).

The Allies had more men, more tanks, more artillery and more fully mechanised forces. Germany had a slight advantage in tactical bombing aircraft and a qualitative superiority in fighter aircraft (over French skies, anyway). Germany's strategy hinged on blasting their way past the high quality Allied forces on the Belgian border to the south via the Ardennes (the BEF and French 1st Army being to the north), bypassing the formidable Maginot Line and then rolling up in both directions. The French initially did well after the Germans broke out, holding them at Sedan, until the Stukas came. If there was an opportunity for a counter-attack, it was here. But for a better deployment of the Allied armoured and air forces, there may not have been a Dunkirk to discuss.

Let's see what others have to say and we'll let this develop.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6281
Joined: 2004
Dunkirk
6/8/2023 3:54:21 PM
Colin,

There was a British counter attack near Arras that gave the Germans some anxious moments and suggested that there was more fragility in the German predicament than is generally assumed.

As you say, there was a phase in the later fighting when French units began to do well and German casualties began to rise significantly.

Not a cheap and easy walk over for the Germans.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 1004
Joined: 2005
Dunkirk
6/9/2023 6:21:22 AM
Phil,

I can't recall where I read it, but there is a hypothesis that if the British breakout attempt at Arras had been strong enough (i.e. division-size units instead of a brigade or two) it would have mortally wounded the German thrust. The French eventually worked out that retreating from the onslaught was counter-productive, as it reduced the morale of their men and left their scattered units open to destruction in detail. They formed into tight defensive pockets, with heavy artillery support and fighter cover from above. The Germans suffered high casualties trying to storm these defensive formations, and it was only once they cleared the French airforce out of the skies that they were able to pulverise the French from above at will and break them.

The Allies initially didn't know what they fighting against, so adopted the strategy of retreating to regroup and then form a new line, not unlike the spring of 1918. Had the Allies stood their ground and formed up in defensive pockets, they might have scattered the German attack into multiple directions. Coupled with the fairly strong air cover they enjoyed at the start of the campaign, I think there's a good chance that the Blitzkrieg would have failed to break the Allied armies and the Germans would have had to regroup instead.

We know that the Blitzkrieg found it difficult to penetrate formations without obvious flanks; the numerous rearguards fought by Allied units at the various evacuation points show that the Blitzkrieg could be slowed, even if not stopped indefinitely. The French infantry fought particularly hard to save their country and it certainly wasn't unanimous amongst the army that the game was up before the French leadership eventually asked for an armistice.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4671
Joined: 2004
Dunkirk
6/9/2023 8:53:02 PM
Colin, Phil,
Good thoughts.Quote:
Initially, I'll offer my view that despite the clear German victory, it was a victory against the odds. The German generals expected their initial offensive to fail, or at least not be so wildly successful. The Allies were more or less well appraised of the German military, and felt they could hold on until 1941/42 when the British Empire would have fully mobilised (I presume they counted on support from the Commonwealth, again).

I would probably argue that it was a victory against the numbers rather than against the odds. Is that nit-picking on my part?

[Quote]The Allies had more men, more tanks, more artillery and more fully mechanised forces. Germany had a slight advantage in tactical bombing aircraft and a qualitative superiority in fighter aircraft (over French skies, anyway).
True, for the most part. I would rate the Luftwaffe as have a larger than marginal advantage in tactical bombing a/c, depending on how you wish to define that concept. This is, IMHO, a vital point in German successes throughout the first year of the war.
Quote:
Germany's strategy hinged on blasting their way past the high quality Allied forces on the Belgian border to the south via the Ardennes (the BEF and French 1st Army being to the north), bypassing the formidable Maginot Line and then rolling up in both directions. The French initially did well after the Germans broke out, holding them at Sedan, until the Stukas came. If there was an opportunity for a counter-attack, it was here. But for a better deployment of the Allied armoured and air forces, there may not have been a Dunkirk to discuss.

Germany’s strategy proved correct. That it was also a rather daring strategy at the time meant it was also liable to counter-attack should their motorized vanguard outrun following infantry or suddenly face concerted, equally mobile forces. Though both the French and the BEF had at least one chance to do just that, neither nation’s military succeeded in doing it.

Added point: it seems to me that from the get-go the German forces fought almost as a combined-ops group. You talk of the tactical striking power the German army utilized, but it would not have been as effective without the bombing support (and, let us not forget the strafing support, however we might wish to condemn it morally). A large part of German assault strategy depended on disruption of enemy supplies, communications, movement and morale, both military and civilian. IIUC, Luftwaffe training and policy worked toward such field co-operation as far back as the establishment of navigation grids and techniques in the late 1920s.

There were squabbles – sometimes very nasty indeed – between various senior members of the services. But for the most part, the Luftwaffe was a huge asset in its tactical capacity as airborne artillery.

I should apologize. I’m at least one day behind in this discussion, and am having trouble catching up. I’m enjoying the discussion immensely, but not finding time to post.

Cheers
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6281
Joined: 2004
Dunkirk
6/10/2023 4:24:30 AM
Brian, Colin and all,

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, it’s important to remember that the Germans had the intense experience of the invasion of Poland to learn from. A crushing victory, but not without anxious moments and attained at the cost of forty to fifty thousand casualties.

It’s hard to reckon what benefits in terms of learning what to do - and, indeed , what NOT to do - this campaign bestowed on the Germans, but it must’ve been significant.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 3189
Joined: 2010
Dunkirk
6/10/2023 3:30:09 PM
Quote:
Brian, Colin and all,

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, it’s important to remember that the Germans had the intense experience of the invasion of Poland to learn from. A crushing victory, but not without anxious moments and attained at the cost of forty to fifty thousand casualties.

It’s hard to reckon what benefits in terms of learning what to do - and, indeed , what NOT to do - this campaign bestowed on the Germans, but it must’ve been significant.

Regards, Phil


Yes, and dont forget theyŕe experience in Spain. There they had learned, for example, how effective harrassing refugees, with strafing and occasional bombing on the roads caused hayoc with military operations.

Trevor
----------------------------------
`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4671
Joined: 2004
Dunkirk
6/10/2023 10:13:09 PM
Quote:
Brian, Colin and all,

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, it’s important to remember that the Germans had the intense experience of the invasion of Poland to learn from. A crushing victory, but not without anxious moments and attained at the cost of forty to fifty thousand casualties.

It’s hard to reckon what benefits in terms of learning what to do - and, indeed , what NOT to do - this campaign bestowed on the Germans, but it must’ve been significant. [(Phi]) …

Yes, and dont forget theyŕe experience in Spain. There they had learned, for example, how effective harrassing refugees, with strafing and occasional bombing on the roads caused hayoc with military operations. [Trevor]

For the most part, I agree with both of you to at least a large extent. Franco’s request was for air support, but he didn’t get it without at least a a modicum of army, navy and submarine support as well. I would argue, however, that Spain was to some extent a support mission for Germany’s Kondor Legion but largely a tactical testing mission for Legion’s air wing. This would allow Germany to evaluate not only aircraft (most of their military a/c were untested in combat) but tactics (I believe the “finger four” fighter grouping was developed at this time, and proved effective to the middle of the Battle of Britain)

Yes, there was strafing, as there was tactical bombing. It was a violent war, with a strong, popular and rather cruel Socialist government being challenged by the one-reigning combination of Church hierarchy and landed wealth. And Both Mussolini and Hitler made their commitment based equally on their support for the Nationalist insurrectionists and their desire to destroy the broad Socialist/Communist movement.

With Poland, Germany faced a ground war, of course. Much of Polish air power was destroyed in the first 48 hours, so it was a question of German ground tactics v Polish defensive strengths. While I agree the German’s faced some challenge, was there ever a doubt of the outcome after the first 72 hours? I don’t think so. This was the first application of Blitzkrieg, IIUC, so it was possible that senior officers were wary at points of risk. The learning point, of course, is when your assessment to press on is successful. I think we see those same threats and warinesses in the West.

The issue, IMHO, is that there are huge lessons to be learned from initial battle. Since the Germans developed effective procedures, and gained at least some idea of the potential functions of air power while in Spain, they brought to subsequent battles not just the skills and techniques learned, but also the pride and arrogance that is only gained by surviving in battle.

Yep, the Germans had experience from at least one of two conflicts by the end of the Polish campaign. And I’m sure their experience served them well, whether in unit training or on the sand lots of the German General Staff. Is that a crime? Not at all. That’s a military learning curve. That’s reality.

And just in case Trevor’s comments are a veiled condemnation of German aerial warfare as brutal or inhumane, I feel in general the need to point out that those who rose to the top in the Air Ministry and in RAF Command were people who honed their skills while bombing and strafing tribesmen in the Middle East, as a maintenance mechanism. I hate much of the behaviour of Air Forces in WW2, but unless the aim is not to win, then weapons are used wherever possible.

Trevor, I’m not attacking you here. I’m honestly trying to read the level of your rage at German air-ground assault techniques, and respond to it in a timely way. I hate that “timely” term! I want to let you know I sense some anger in your presentation of German actions in SCW.

Cheers,
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6281
Joined: 2004
Dunkirk
6/11/2023 2:11:43 AM
Brian,

Trevor mentioned the extent to which the huge numbers of terrified people clogging up the roads became a hindrance to the military operations of the Allies. Quite apart from the moral outrage we’re bound to feel at the prospect of strafing civilians, there’s the question of how far German military doctrine countenanced the use of terror as an aid to military operations. I believe that they had done this in 1914, and were determined to do it more comprehensively a generation later. Was the terrifying screech of the Stuka in its dive bombing run designed with that in mind ?

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 3189
Joined: 2010
Dunkirk
6/11/2023 4:49:14 AM
Quote:


And just in case Trevor’s comments are a veiled condemnation of German aerial warfare as brutal or inhumane, I feel in general the need to point out that those who rose to the top in the Air Ministry and in RAF Command were people who honed their skills while bombing and strafing tribesmen in the Middle East, as a maintenance mechanism. I hate much of the behaviour of Air Forces in WW2, but unless the aim is not to win, then weapons are used wherever possible.

Trevor, I’m not attacking you here. I’m honestly trying to read the level of your rage at German air-ground assault techniques, and respond to it in a timely way. I hate that “timely” term! I want to let you know I sense some anger in your presentation of German actions in SCW.

Cheers,
Brian G


No Brian. I don´t see it as a moral issue. There is no anger or rage behind the comment. It was more an observation.

I´ve been interested in the Spanish Civil War ever since I lived in Spain (Barcelona) many moons ago. For anybody interested in the subject I would recommend " The Spanish Civil War", a monumental masterpiece by Hugh Thomas.

Quote:
Brian,

Trevor mentioned the extent to which the huge numbers of terrified people clogging up the roads became a hindrance to the military operations of the Allies. Quite apart from the moral outrage we’re bound to feel at the prospect of strafing civilians, there’s the question of how far German military doctrine countenanced the use of terror as an aid to military operations. I believe that they had done this in 1914, and were determined to do it more comprehensively a generation later. Was the terrifying screech of the Stuka in its dive bombing run designed with that in mind ?

Regards, Phil


Yes.

Also additionally interesting, are the recollections of the Irish Nobel prize winner Samuel Becket. In 1940 he lived in Paris and he was one of many refugees fleeing on foot southwards. He relates what for a huge influence this experience had on his work.

Trevor
----------------------------------
`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4671
Joined: 2004
Dunkirk
6/11/2023 11:12:00 PM
Phil, I can’t comment to WW1, but everything I’ve read intimates that the siren on the Stuka was a device included to frighten those targeted. Whether it was meant to terrorize is another matter, and gets into word usage I tread carefully around. This might be personal; you will understand my concern of the “terrorflieger” as an aspect of RAF bombing. The point is, IMHO, all Luftwaffe a/c in 1940 (except, perhaps the Bf-109 E) had the capability to bomb and strafe almost at will. An obvious aim of German Blitzkrieg was to create and maintain chaos in enemy communications, mobility and integrity. Aircraft such as the Stuka and the newly introduced Zerstorer Bf-110 were indeed frightening tools to support German intent.

The Stuka (Ju-87) had only a short primary life. It was first introduced to combat in late 1938, late in the SCW, and by the summer of 1940, after the Kanalkampf, was deemed to be obsolete. I think that call came because RAF Fighter Command found a means by which RAF Hurricanes could shoot them down at the nadir of their dives with some ease. The Stuka would, however, be adapted for anti-tank warfare on the Eastern front, and would remain effective to mid-1944.

Cheers
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.

© 2023 - MilitaryHistoryOnline.com LLC