- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology
The German Nightmare Scenario
The Anglo Counterattack That Might Have Saved France
For those not in the know, France fell to Nazi Germany in June 1940. The British barely got out alive. France, in terms of military power, was actually stronger in many ways than Germany. Their tanks were superior in their armor and German tanks, while faster, were undergunned. Shells simply bounced off the French armor in many cases. Many of the French aircraft were comparable to the Luftwaffe.
Germany's greatest superiority against all Allied forces for some time remained in their tactics and morale. The Blitzkrieg, which was adopted by all superpowers long ago, was revolutionary. It was lightening warfare led by rapid armor thrusts through breaks in defenses and striking deep into the enemy rear, while slower forces surrounded and devoured the defenders with artillery, air and infantry. Oddly, Israel adopted this style after WW2 and the results can be seen in all of the Arab-Israeli Wars from 1956-73. Israel won them all.
In 1940, France was stuck militarily in a WW1 type mode. Their tactics were old and set piece. When the Germans struck, they literally did not know what had hit them. Within days, what was thought to be stout defenses, collapsed. Within a week, a large portion of France was in German possession. Shock waves rippled through the French Headquarters. Even French General's were in despair. Nothing much seemed to stop the panzers. When the British arrived to help France, they were in no better shape. Much confusion between the allied forces resulted from ego, pride and not understanding one another. There was mistrust.
By May 20, German panzers had streaked across France and were now approaching Cambrai, Arras, Amiens. The British, in part, had just managed to secure the Arras area and on the 21st, counterattacked with Matilda tanks. For the first time, German troops now fled and retreated. Rommel's panzer division fell back to the dismay of himself. Why? British Matilda tanks had such thick armor that all of the German shells simply bounced off them. Nothing stopped them!
The retreat did not last long because of two things: British confusion and no infantry support to keep up with the tanks and Rommel ordering his 88mm guns to fire directly. The 88mm gun was WW2's best ever weapon to destroy any tank.
Forty miles south of Arras, the French 7th Army held around Amiens. There was a lot of talk between the allied leaders about attacking from the north and south, to cut-off the panzer corridor. Some of Germany's armored divisions were already approaching the coast, some had begun their encirclement near Dunkirk. The French indicated they could not be ready until the 22nd. Yet, when the 22nd came, only French units east of Arras counterattacked towards Cambrai. This was a near breakthrough and Cambrai was almost French again until the Luftwaffe forced them back. The French 7th Army did absolutely nothing but defend. They were never told.
Had the British and French coordinated better, the counterattack using the British forces at Arras on the 21st, would have had more impact on the 22nd, when other French units began their attack. Had the French 7th Army been instructed to attack northwards towards Arras to meet the other attacking allied units, many of the German panzer divisions could've been trapped. Cut-off as greatly feared by the German High Command and Hitler. How many?
Six panzer divisions. The shock effect would have been so great, that it is plausible that the German High Command might had halted further advance in order to reopen the supply lines. The cut-off divisions would have been recalled to assist in reopening them. This would have meant that in all liklihood, the disaster at Dunkirk could have been avoided. It would have given the allies precious time to get their wit and redeploy.
Granted, once the panzer corridor was shut, the allies would be in a very difficult position to keep it shut. How long it could be shut remains the critical question. Would it have prevented France from defeat? Probably not, it just would've taken the Germans longer.