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