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The special envoy returned to France on the next morning, bringing the good news to his master in Paris.
Meanwhile the French High Command had decided to alter its plans for Austria; reports had been received that the forces defending the Alps were already in a dreadful state and lacking essential supplies.
Mussolini had become quite impatient and angry over the France’s refusal to allow his forces to attack from the south.
He declared that he had no interest in Austrian land and that it was shameful to deny Italy its right, no obligation, to support its brothers in arms.
The Emperor gave the High Command green light to involve the First, Second and the Alpine Army in the attack on the Alps.
Beginning Of May 1940
The Attack on the Austrian Alps
The Luftwaffe Tries Again
International observers were surprised to see the German High Command unleash yet another Air Offensive in the beginning of May.1940
. For a while it seems that Lord Halifax will be the next prime minister. Most of the Conservative majority in Parliament would prefer to have Halifax, and the Labour minority are also ready to support him.
The problem is that as a peer he sits in the House of Lords and this is not ideal for a national leader.
At the meeting of senior Conservatives Halifax’s own worries about this leave Churchill as the only alternative.
Churchill with the King on the day of his appointment.
. The Belgian army is placed on alert because of recent tension and signs of German troop movements. The Luftwaffe has been successful in keeping Allied reconnaissance flights away from the German preparations.
Reynaud has been growing more and more unhappy with the leadership of Gamelin, the Supreme Commander.
He has been unable to dismiss him because he is supported in Cabinet by Daladier, who remains influential although he is no longer prime minister. These quarrels now come to a head but no announcement is made pending the formation of a new government. The German attack on May 10th will cause the changes to be deferred.
Hitler issues orders for the Western offensive.
1940 (9 May) cover from GB to HOLLAND
with tied PC 90 OBE 3269 label and boxed NO SERVICE RETURN TO SENDER h/s. London m/c. to rear 25 May
The Battle Of britain Handdrawing card 1940Ganger somewhere In Wales
Parry”What do you doing now
Whateffer”Workler “ Knitting a nuffler for’itler
Bent Wright 1940Cartoonist :Evening Express”
1940 origional pen and ink drawing [88 x 127 mm] ‘The Battle of Britain’ by Bert Wright. Cartoonist “Evening Express” L’pool. The other side signed by ‘Capt. Geo Gibbons CBE RD RNR. Late Cunard White Star Ltd’. CAPTAIN OF THE QUEEN MARY. Captain George Gibbons, C.B.E., R.D., R.N.R., 1-29-36. first taking command. Taken from autograph book.
Look Othe caricature oF Battle Of britain Pilot
On the Western Front…
The Germans launch Operation Gelb, the offensive in the west. Army Group C (Leeb) holds the German frontier opposite the French Maginot Line while Army Group A (Rundstedt) makes the main attack through the Ardennes and Army Group B (Bock) makes a secondary advance through Belgium and Holland to draw the main British and French forces north.
During the day, Army Group A strikes, with three armored corps in the lead, heading for Sedan, Montherme and Dinant. The advance is rapid and the little opposition, mostly French cavalry, is thrown aside.
To the north, Army Group B carries out parachute landings deep inside Holland which do much to paralyze Dutch resistance, while German units cross the Maas River near Arnhem and the Belgian fort at Eben Emael is put out of action by a German airborne force which lands its gliders literally on top of it.
The fort is meant to cover the crossings of the Albert Canal nearby and this is not achieved. The Luftwaffe gives powerful support. At the end of the day the German advance has gone almost exactly according to plan.
Meanwhile, the Allied Plan D provides for the French 1st Army Group ( General Billotte), consisting of the British Expeditionary Force ( General Lord Gort) and the French 7th Army (General Giraud) to advance to the line of the Dyle River and the Meuse River above Namur, to be joined there by the Belgian forces and on the left to link with the Dutch.
General Gamelin is the Allied Supreme Commander and General Georges commands the armies on the French Northeast Front. The Allies react quickly to the German attacks as soon as they hear of them from the Belgians.
By the evening much of the Dyle line has been occupied but the troops find that there are no fortifications to compare with the positions they have prepared along the Franco-Belgian frontier during the Phony War period. Some of the reserve is therefore committed to strengthen the line. Some of the advance forces of French 7th Army make contact with the Germans in southern Holland and are roughly handled.
German paratroopers drop in Holland
In Britain…Churchill visits the King and officially takes office as prime minister.
In Norway… British forces are sent south from Harstad to Mo-i-Rana to join the small units trying to delay the German advance to relieve the Narvik force. Some of these units are now engaged at Mosjoen.
In Iceland… British troops land on the island. They are the advance elements of a force which is to set up a destroyer and scout-plane base to help in the convoy battles in the Atlantic. Equally, they will prevent the Germans using the island to aid their U-boat campaign.
Fort Eben-Emael Falls to German Paratroopers and Glider Units.
Fort Eben-Emael was reputed to be the strongest military stronghold in the world. On May 10th 1940, Fort Eben-Emael was attacked by the Germans as part of their blitzkrieg attack on Western Europe. The speed with which Eben-Emael fell and how the raid was executed was symptomatic of just how devastating blitzkrieg could be.
<span>First Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig, Commander of the Group which captured Eben Emael Fortress on the 10th of May, 1940.</span>
Fort Eben-Emael was north of the large Belgium city of Liege. It commanded the Albert Canal and was seen by the Belgium military as being the principle barrier against an attack from her eastern borders. As well as the Albert Canal, the fort also had a commanding position over the high bridges over the canal. If an enemy captured these bridges, their ability to move military vehicles and troops would have been greatly helped. Without the control of these bridges, such movement into Belgium would have been severely restricted and the mobility that blitzkrieg needed for success would have been blunted.
<span>The DFS 230 assault glider, the type of machine which carried German paratroops into action at Eben Emael, the invasion of Crete, and the rescue of Mussolini.</span>
The fort itself was awesome. Built between 1932 and 1935, it abutted the Albert Canal at Caster. From north to south, the fort was 900 meters long and from east to west, it was 700 meters. The fort was a base for infantry and artillery units, and the defences of the fort were placed so that each mutually covered the other should the fort come under attack. Getting into the fort would have been very difficult. Two of the walls were 40 meters high and nearly vertical. Climbing them in an assault would have been all but impossible. The other sides of the fort were protected as a result of a man-made ditch around them, again making any assault difficult. To further complicate any assault, outer trenches had been built and more walls, the majority of which were 4 meters high.
<span>Fort Eben Emael</span>
The weaponry within the fort was also awesome. The fort contained 7.5-cm cannons, 12-cm revolving cannon; machine guns; searchlights; anti-tank cannons and anti-aircraft cannon. Dummy weapon emplacements were built to fool the enemy.
<span>One of the immensely thick cupolas of the Eben Emael fortress complex. Even the largest of hollow charge grenades had little effect on them.</span>
The fort itself was connected within by a series of tunnels that totalled many kilometres. There was only one access to these tunnels at Fort 17 in the south-west of the vast complex. The fort was effectively self-sufficient as it contained barracks, sick bays and a communication centre. The tunnel complex was built with a ventilation system complete with filters in case of a poison gas attack.
However, Eben-Emael had one major weakness. It was vulnerable to an attack from the air. The German High Command knew that they had to capture intact the bridges over the Albert Canal if blitzkrieg was to function. They also knew that a paratrooper attack ââ‚¬” so devastating in Holland ââ‚¬” would be unlikely to be successful at Eben-Emael as it would give the defenders too much time to react as the paratroopers descended. They therefore decided on a mode of attack the defenders would be surprised by ââ‚¬” the use of gliders carrying troops. The gliders would land at half-light inside the fort thus negating its defences. Such an attack would possess a high surprise factor which would not be achieved using paratroopers.
<span>German troops standing on the roof of part of the Eben Emael fortress complex.</span>
The attack had to be carefully co-ordinated so that it took place just at the same time as the main Wehrmacht attack across the Belgium border. In this way, the Belgium army would be fully occupied and no units outside of the fort could come to its aid.
<span>Defender’s of the Fort</span>
The raid was full of risks. Take-off and landings were potential problems. When the gliders came within range of the fortââ‚¬™s anti-aircraft guns, they were at risk. To compensate for the latter, the attack was planned at half-light ââ‚¬” making the task of the glider pilots even more difficult as visibility would be a key issue. The plan was to release the gliders 20 kilometres from the fort at a height of 2000 meters. The pilots selected for the raid were considered to be the best and were given a target of landing their gliders within 20 meters of their chosen target.
<span>Although obsolete as a bomber by World War II, the Junkers Ju 52s delivered the attacking forces and their supplies during the German invasion of Norway, Denmark, France, and the Low Countries in 1940.</span>
The attack was entrusted to the Koch Storm Detachment formed in November 1939. The main section of this unit comprised of paratroopers, including those trained in sapping. The actual attack on the fort itself was carried out by these sappers led by Colonel Rudolf Witzig.
The unit led by Witzig trained for six months for this attack. They were to use 11 gliders and the glider pilots were also expected to fight in the attack. Each glider was to fly seven or eight men, excluding the pilot. Each glider unit had two targets to attack. The sappers carried large quantities of explosives and such weapons as flame throwers.
The attackers landed at 05.25 on May 10th 1940, five minutes before the main attack across the Belgium border. To confuse the Belgium military around the area, the Germans also used dummy gliders that ââ‚¬Ëœlandedââ‚¬™ in areas around the canal but served no other purpose but to confuse the defenders. Nine of the eleven gliders got through to the fort ââ‚¬” one glider being lost to anti-aircraft fire and one having to land just outside of Cologne as its towrope had broken.
The Koch Storm Detachment had given themselves just 60 minutes to create a base in the fort which they could defend. In this time, they destroyed many of the gun emplacements in the fort and captured a large section of it. Some of the complex remained in the hands of the Belgium army but by May 11th, the fight was over as the advancing German army arrived in force. Confronted with an enemy literally within and surrounded by a massive army without, the defenders had no real choice but to surrender.
The attack was a success for the Germans as the fort was taken and the vital bridges captured intact. The Germans lost 6 men killed out of the 85 who set out on the attack with 15 wounded. The Belgium defenders lost 23 men killed and 59 wounded.
The attack on Fort Eben-Emael shows how blitzkrieg worked within a small environment as opposed to an attack on a whole country. The element of surprise was key, as was the use of a method of attack not really considered possible by other Western European armies. The use of troops specifically trained to become experts in explosives, parachuting etc were also vital. The defensive mentality of the Belgium army was exposed by the success of the attack on Fort Eben-Emael
On the Western Front… The German offensive continues. The advance in Holland is very rapid and even more of the Dutch army is put out of action. In Belgium the Germans are approaching the British and French positions which are now strongly held. Eben Emael falls to German attacks after some fruitless resistance. Rundstedt’s forces advance nearer to the Meuse.
Hitler poses with the paratroopers who captured Eben Emael
12 May 1940.
<span>Bf 109 E-4N – The aircraft of Lt. Col. Adolf Galland, on Audembert airfield, France, December 1940. </span>
At the beginning of WW II, Galland flew in Poland in the Henschel Hs 123, until October 1, 1939, performing ground attack missions and proving the dive-bombing concept. For his efforts Galland was awarded by Iron Cross.
<span>Major Adolf Galland after scoring his 40th victory on 23 September 1940. Galland is greeted first by his crew chief Uffz. Mayer.</span>
Next, he was assigned to JG 27, commanded by Oberst Max Ibel. During the French campaign Adolf Galland scored his first kills on 12 May 1940, when he went with Gustav RÃÂ¶del on a mission. Galland shot down two “Hurricanes” from 87th Squadron in two sorties.
On 12 May, west of Liege, Belgium, he scored his first aerial victory and had two more victories that day. All three victims were RAF Hurricanes.
By the end of the French campaign he had accumulated 14 victories.
<span>Here is a right profile of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4N W.Nr. 5819, used by Galland in the period of September 1940 – April 1941. This view is dated 23 September 1940, when Galland claimed his 40th victory. Note – this plane was repainted and remarked many times. </span>
1 12.5.1940… Hurricane Stab JG 27 10 km W LÃ¼ttich Hurricane I (L1970) of 87 Sqn RAF flown by F/O J A Campbell, killed
2 12.5.1940… Hurricane Stab JG 27 18 km S LÃ¼ttich Hurricane I (L1632) of 87 Sqn RAF flown by Sgt F V Howell, baled out
3 12.5.1940… Hurricane Stab JG 27 7 km EEN Tirlemont
4 16.5.1940… Spitfire Stab JG 27 5 km S Lille
5 19.5.1940… Potez 63 Stab JG 27 N Albert
6 19.5.1940… Potez 63 Stab JG 27 SW Hirson
7 20.5.1940… Potez 63 Stab JG 27 S Amiens
8 29.5.1940… Blenheim Stab JG 27 15 km N Gravelines
9 29.5.1940… Blenheim Stab JG 27 30 km NW Gravelines
10 2.6.1940… Spitfire Stab JG 27 W Dunkirk
11 9.6.1940… Curtiss Hawk 75 Stab JG 27 E Rotoy
12 9.6.1940… Morane MS 406 Stab JG 27 13 km NW Meaux
13 14.6.1940… Blenheim Stab III./JG 26 22km SE Vernon/Breval
14 14.6.1940… Battle Stab III./JG 26 10km S Evreux
Ian R. Gleed Pilot of the 87 Sq RAF in France.
<span>Ian R. Gleed </span>
<span>His personal insignia: Figaro the Cat.</span>
In May 1940, Gleed was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and received orders to report to 87 Squadron, flying Hurricanes with the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) in France. Between receiving his orders and reporting to the squadron in Northern France on may17, 1940, the Germans had attacked in the West and the Hurricanes of the AASF were doing their best to keep the Stukas off the backs of the British Expeditionary Force as it made a fighting retreat out of Belgium. 87 Squadron was in the middle of the action, with pilots flying several sorties in a day and seeing combat on nearly every one.
<span>According to serial number, P2798 may have begun life as a “rag-wing” Hurricane. Metal wings were produced beginning in the fall of 1939, and the units of the Advanced Air Striking Force were among the first to have their Hurricanes refitted with the new metal wings. In the Spring of 1940, they swapped out the Watts two-blade wooden prop for the de Havilland two-position controllable prop, while a few received early examples of the Rotol constant-speed prop, which maximized the airplane’s performance at all speeds and altitudes. It’s not known when these modifications were made to P2798, but the airplane had both the metal wing and Rotol prop by the time Gleed took delivery in May, 1940. It’s very likely that the improved performance of this Hurricane, along with Gleed’s superior flying skills, were what combined to allow him to score as he did against the Bf109E, an airplane that outperformed the Hurricane on all points other than turning circle. </span>
It was here that Gleed encountered Hurricane P2798, which would be his combat mount for the rest of 1940.
In the ensuing week of combat and dodging from airfield to airfield ahead of the Germans, Gleed scored 5 victories over Messerschmitt 109s, and one shared.
By the time 87 was withdrawn from France ten days later, after suffering more than 50 percent losses among its pilots, Gleed had 7 kills and had decorated P2798 with what would be his personal insignia: Figaro the Cat. Figaro was a well-known “cat with an attitude” in prewar British newspaper comics who always defeated his opponents by use of feline wiles, perhaps a predecessor of today’s Garfield; the little black-and-white cat seemed a symbolic “companion in war” for Gleed.
<span>As with most RAF fighters in France, P2798 didn’t carry a serial number after the fin flash was added to the insignia, since that was where the serial had been carried in 6-inchnumbers and letters until April 1940. Additionally, the airplane had a non-standard fuselage insignia after going through the various changes in insignia that happened between September 1939and August 1940. Also, while the lower surfaces had been painted black/white prior to June, 1940, it was repainted with the new Sky color, and 35-inch roundels were applied for identification. </span>
As 87 Sqn. sorted itself out back in England, Gleed – whose combat leadership skills had become very apparent in the confusion of battle in France – was promoted to Squadron Leader and became Officer Commanding 87 Squadron. He would have a very short time to bring the “new boys” on board and pass on to them the rudiments of what he had learned of survival in aerial combat before the Battle of Britain would begin
Boulton-Paul Defiant flies it first Combat Missions.
<span>RAF Defiant coded PS-A </span>
The Defiant had a significant but brief operational career with the RAF. The first front-line RAF Defiant squadron was also the first to be deployed into battle on 12 May, 1940 over the beaches of Dunkirk, its fighters claiming 38 enemy aircraft in one day. The squadron totalled 65 enemy aircraft shot down by the end of May, 1940. When the RAF Defiants were moved to night fighter operations, many of them carried the then-new AI airborne interception radar. In this role the Defiant again proved itself in combat, achieving more “kills” per interception that any other of the improvised night fighter aircraft of the period.
<span>RAF Museum Boulton Paul P.82 Defiant I N1671</span>
General characteristics Defiant Mk.I
Primary function Fighter
Power plant One 12cylinder water-cooled Rolls-Royce Merlin engine
Thrust Merlin III (Mk.I) 1,030 HP 768 kW
Merlin XX (Mk.II) 1,260 HP 940 kW
Wingspan 39.4 ft 12 m
Length 35.3 ft 10.75 m
Height 12.1 ft 3.7 m
Wingarea 250 sq ft 23.23 sq m
Weight empty 6,000 lb 2,722 kg
takeoff 8,350 lb 3,787 kg
Speed 303 mph 488 km/h
Initial climb rate 1,900 ft/min 579 m/min
Ceiling 30,512 ft 9,300 m
Range 500 mi 805 km
Armament 4x 7.7mm machine gun (600 rounds each)
First flight Prototype 11.8.1937
Date deployed December 1939
Number built 1064 (both versions)
Often maligned as a failure, the Boulton Paul Defiant found a successful niche as a night-fighter during the German ‘Blitz’ on London, scoring a significant number of combat kills before being relegated to training and support roles.
The Boulton Paul company first became interested in powered gun turrets when it pioneered the use of a pneumatic-powered enclosed nose turret in the Boulton Paul Overstand biplane bomber. The company subsequently brought the rights to a French-designed electro-hydraulic powered turret and soon became the UK leaders in turret design.
<span>Defiant F. Mk I banks away</span>
On 26 June 1935, the Air Ministry issued Specification F.9/35 calling for a two-seat fighter with all its armament concentrated in a turret. Peformance was to be similar to that of the single-seat monoplane fighters then being developed. It was envisioned that the new fighter would be employed as destroyer of unescorted enemy bomber formations. Protected from the slipstream, the turret gunner would be able to bring much greater firepower to bear on rapidly moving targets than was previously possible.
Boulton Paul tendered the P.82 design, featuring an 4-gun turret developed from the French design, and was rewarded with an order for two prototypes. On 28 April 1937, the name Defiant was allocated to the project and an initial production order for 87 aircraft was placed before the prototype had even flown.
<span>Defiant TT. Mk I DR972</span>
The first prototype (K8310) made its maiden flight on 11 August 1937, with the turret position faired over as the first turret wasn’t ready for installation. Without the drag of the turret, the aircraft was found to handle extremely well in the air. With these promising results, a further production contract was awarded in Febrary 1938. Performance with the turret fitted was somewhat disappointing, but still considered worthwhile. In May 1938, the second prototype (K8620)was ready for testing. This aircraft was much closer to the final production standard. Development and testing of the aircraft and turret combination proved somewhat protracted, and delivery to the Royal Air Force was delayed until December 1939, when No.264 Squadron received its first aircraft. Numerous engine and hydraulic problems were not finally resolved until early in 1940.
<span>Defiant first prototype K8310 with turret fitted</span>
The A. Mk IID turret used on the Defiant was a self-contained ‘drop-in’ unit with its own hydraulic pump. To reduce drag two aerodynamic fairings, one fore and one aft of the turret, were included in the design. Rectraction of these fairings by means of pneumatic jacks allowed the turret to traverse. Too allow the turret a clear field of fire, two rather large radio masts were located on the underside of the fuselage. These masts retracted when the undercarriage was extended. The overall aircraft was of modern stressed skin construction, designed in easy-to-build sub-assemblies which greatly facilitated the rapid build-up in production rates.
<span>No. 264 Squadron.</span>
Duxford 10 May 1940
Fowlmere 3 July 1940
Kirton-in-Lindsey 23 July 1940
Hornchurch 22 August 1940
Rochford 27 August 1940
Kirton-in-Lindsey 28 August 1940
Rochford 29 October 1940</span>
<span>A Boulton Paul Defiant Mk 1 in 264 Squadron day-fighter markings</span>
Previously, a single-seat fighter unit, 264 Sqn spent some time working out the new tactics required by the type. Good co-ordination was required between the pilot and gunner in order to get into the best position to open fire on a target. A second day fighter unit, 141 Sqn, began converting to the Defiant in April 1940. The Defiant undertook it first operational sortie on 12 May 1940, when 264 Sqn flew a patrol over the beaches of Dunkirk. A Junkers Ju 88 was claimed by the squadron. However, the unit suffered its first losses the following day, when five out of six aircraft were shot down by Bf 109s in large dogfight. The Defiant was never designed to dogfight with single-seat fighters and losses soon mounted. By the end of May 1940, it had become very clear that the Defiant was no match for the Bf 109 and the two squadrons were moved to airfields away from the south coast of England. At the same time, interception of unescorted German bombers often proved successful, with several kills being made.
<span>Defiant single-seat fighter mock-up</span>
In the summer of 1940, flight testing commenced of an improved version of the Defiant fitted with a Merlin XX engine featuring a two-speed supercharger (prototype N1550). The resultant changes included a longer engine cowling, deeper radiator and increased fuel capacity. Performance increases were small. Nevertheless, the new version was ordered into production as the Defiant Mk II.
The limitations on the Defiant’s manoeuvrability forced its eventual withdrawal from daylight operations in late August 1940. 264 and 141 squadrons became dedicated night-fighter units. The Defiant night fighters were painted all-black and fitted with flame damper exhausts. Success came quickly, with the first night kill being claimed on 15 September 1940. From November 1940, an increasing number of new night fighter squadrons were formed on the Defiant. Units operating the Defiant shot down more enemy aircraft than any other night-fighter during the German ‘Blitz’ on London in the winter of 1940-41. Initial operations were conducted without the benefit of radar. From the Autumn of 1941, AI Mk 4 radar units began to be fitted to the Defiant. An arrow type aerial was fitted on each wing, and a small H-shaped aerial added on the starboard fuselage side, just in front of the cockpit. The transmitter unit was located behind the turret, with the receiver and display screen in the pilot’s cockpit. The addition of radar brought a change in designation for the Mk I to N.F. Mk IA, but the designation of the Mk II version did not change. By February 1942, the Defiant was obviously too slow to catch the latest German night intruders and the night fighter units completely re-equipped in
On the Western Front… The French 7th Army advancing into Holland is engaged with the German advance near Tilburg and is thrown back. In their main armored thrust the Germans enter Sedan without a fight. The French forces in the area retire to the left bank of the Meuse River where they have substantial artillery support deployed to deny the crossing to the Germans. During the night, French artillery shells Sedan. Meanwhile, other German armored forces reach the Meuse farther north.
French artillery opens of on Sedan during the night
The Airmail letter from Sindanglaja DEI(Indonesia )to Nijmegen Nederland from 1940 cannot send because no postal service (Postverbinding OpgerevenIdue to the Euro war and Netherland occupaid by Germany hitler,sencored and return to sender(retour Afzender)
AThe same sender cover from Sindanglaja DEI( Indonesia) to Netherland were sencored, due to the netherland postal closed , the letter send back to sender(Return To sender-retour Afzender Postverbinding Opgeheven)
10 – 12th May 1940
It was obvious that the Luftwaffe hadn’t recovered since its resounding defeats during the winter and early spring, the intensive raids on Hannover amidst a powerful thunderstormon the 10 – 12th May 1940 caused many to wonder if Reich President Beck had gone mad.
The Battle of France
Fall of the Low Countries and France
In October 1939, accepting the fact that the conquest of Poland, however impressive, would not prompt Great Britain and France to withdraw from the war, Adolf HITLER directed the High Command of the Armed Forces ( Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) to prepare for an offensive in the west. Although the leading German commanders believed the better course to be to await an Allied offensive, he insisted on striking within six weeks in order to forestall further Allied preparations. The first version of the plan for the attack, called Fall Gelb (Plan Yellow), was modeled on the old Schlieffen Plan, which had received a modified test in 1914. It was based on a main effort through Belgium north of Liege. A total of 37 divisions was to make this effort, while a subsidiary force of 27 divisions moved through the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg.
This was exactly what the Allied commanders expected. An attack against northeastern France was improbable because of the existence of the Maginot Line, the formidable belt of fortifications built in the 1930’s from Switzerland to Longuyon, near the junction of the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Because of the barrier of the hilly, forested Ardennes, Allied commanders considered a major attack there also improbable. Thus only the Liege area, leading to the flatlands of Flanders and thence to France’s northern frontier, was supposedly open to the Germans.
Though built originally merely to protect Alsace and Lorraine until France could mobilize against a surprise attack, the Maginot Line had engendered a false sense of security in the war-weary country. French commanders were nevertheless conscious of the great gap reaching from the end of the line to the English Channel. They accepted the fact of the gap on the theory that France could not afford to fight along this line. In the first place, battle in the industrial Lille-Cambrai region would destroy or deny two thirds of the nation’s coal resources. Secondly, accepting battle there would mean acquiesence in the surrender of Belgium. This France, victor over Germany in World War I and still a major power with reputedly the world’s strongest army, could not accept.
It was apparent to French and British leaders that once the Germans attacked, the Allies had to move into Belgium. To provide time for this movement the Allied leaders depended on a delaying action by the Belgian Army, reinforced by the barrier of the Ardennes and the Meuse River, the large forts at Liege, the deep cut of the Albert Canal north of that city, and Fort Eben-Emael near the Dutch-Belgian border. (This fort was said to be the strongest single fortress in the world.) The major problem was the lack of consultation and coordination with the Belgians and the Dutch. Although the Low Countries realized that Nazi Germany would include them in any pattern of conquest against the West, they continued to hope that a policy of abject neutrality would forestall the inevitable.
The Allies planned nevertheless to advance into Belgium to the line of the Scheldt (Escaut, Schelde) River (Plan E). As the months passed without a German attack and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was increased to 10 divisions, this plan was replaced by a more ambitious decision to move to the Dyle River, a few miles east of Brussels (Bruxelles). Under Plan D, as the new concept was called, the Belgian Army was to fall back on the Dyle and the lower reaches of the Albert Canal to protect Antwerp (Antwerpen), the British were to defend the upper Dyle, and the French were to hold the Gembloux gap between the Dyle and the Meuse at Namur (Namen) and the Meuse itself where the river crosses the Ardennes. In the continued belief that the main German effort would be made in the Liege area, the supreme French commander, Gen. Maurice Gustave Gamelin, assigned to the Gembloux gap his strongest force, the mechanized First Army under Gen. Georges M. J. Blanchard. The second strongest force, the Seventh Army under Gen. Henri Giraud, ostensibly a reserve, was to move swiftly into the southern Netherlands to assist the Dutch. In keeping with the theory that the Ardennes itself was a considerable barrier, a weaker force, the Ninth Army under Gen. Andre Georges Corap, was to defend the Meuse from Namur to Sedan; and another weak force, the Second Army under Gen. Charles Huntziger, was to serve both as a bridge between Sedan and the garrison of the Maginot Line and as a hinge for the wide-swinging movement of the Allied armies into Belgium.
As the Germans prepared for attack in November 1939, an invasion scare gripped the Allies, but bad weather forced postponement of the attack. After repeated postponements because of weather conditions, the attack was firmly scheduled for Jan. 17, 1940. A week before the target date, however, a German plane strayed off its course and was forced down in Belgium. On the two officers aboard the Belgians found orders for the air phase of the invasion. This prompted an alarm of even greater proportions than before, and some French forces began moving toward their assigned sectors along the Belgian border. German observers could not help but note the nature of the French deployment, particularly the weakness of the armies at the hinge near Sedan. Of even greater consequence was the fact that the information gained from the fliers confirmed General Gamelin’s view that the invasion was to come through the Liege area and not through the Ardennes.
In the meantime, Hitler and several of his subordinates had begun to question the basic concept of Plan Yellow. Indeed, even before the November target date, Hitler himself had forced a change in plan that shifted the main effort from north of Liege to both sides of the city. Col. Gen. (later Field Marshal) Gerd von Rundstedt, commander of Army Group A, which was to drive through the Ardennes, insisted that the main effort be made through that sector with armored divisions to the fore. In an audience with the German leader, Rundstedt’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. (later Field Marshal) Erich von Manstein, apparently provided the final arguments needed to change Hitler’s mind. After weather again forced the cancellation of the target date, Hitler postponed the offensive until spring and ordered a basic alteration in the plan. Army Group B in the north, commanded by Col. Gen. Fedor von Bock, was reduced to 28 divisions, only 3 of which were armored. Rundstedt and Army Group A in the Ardennes had 44, including 7 armored divisions. With the main thrust moving via Sedan, Rundstedt was to drive to the channel, trapping French, British, and Belgian armies in Belgium.
Meanwhile, the Allies failed to profit materially from the eight months’ respite that they had gained between the declaration of war and the onset of major hostilities in the west. They still felt no real sense of crisis, for they continued to consider the speed of the Polish campaign attributable less to German strength and to a new mode of warfare than to Polish weakness. Although some effort was made to extend the Maginot Line fortifications to the coast, it produced little more than a shallow antitank ditch and a few widely spaced blockhouses. Modern equipment for the French armies and the BEF remained a promise rather than a reality. Allied timetables for troop movements still resembled those of World War I. Corap’s Ninth Army, for example, planned on five days for the move to the Meuse covering the Ardennes while only cavalry units sought to delay the Germans east of the river. The Allies, and particularly the French, still looked on tanks as servants of the infantry, parceling them out to infantry divisions rather than massing them in hard-hitting armored formations in close liaison with tactical aircraft.
The Allies actually were superior numerically to the Germans. The French, Dutch, Belgians, and British together had approximately 4,000,000 men available, in contrast to about 2,000,000 Germans who might be used against them. As of May 1940, 136 German divisions were in the west, as opposed to 94 French divisions in northeastern and northern France, plus 10 British, 22 Belgian, and 9 Dutch divisions. In tanks, too, the opposing forces were relatively equal. The Germans had 2,439 tanks in the west; the Allies, 2,689. Nor were German tanks vastly superior except in speed. Created as infantry support weapons, French tanks were heavily armed and armored but lacked appreciable speed and cruising range. In aircraft the Germans enjoyed some advantage in over-all numbers, with about 3,200 planes to 1,200 French and 600 British planes, but in fighter aircraft alone the two forces were approximately equal. Only in antiaircraft and antitank weapons were the French markedly inferior. The difference in opposing forces thus was less a question of numbers and quality than of a variance in approach to modern warfare. The Germans had developed new methods based on quick breakthroughs by armor supported by mobile artillery and aircraft, followed by rapid exploitation of the resulting gaps. In addition, a kind of war-weary lethargy still gripped both France and Britain, as is evidenced by their relatively slow industrial mobilization. Not until Hitler invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1940 was the full portent of the Nazi threat accepted in the two nations. By that time it was too late.
By the evening of May 12 (the third day) Guderian had reached the Meuse at Sedan with the main force in less than seventy-two hours.
Sedan is only a short drive from Bouillon.
Steep banks along much of the Meuse in this region means it is easily protected; Guderian headed for Sedan specifically because the countryside there is flat on both sides of the river, making a crossing more difficult to oppose.
<span>In addition to the crossings at Mouzaive, the Germans captured Bouillon and began pouring troops across the river less than 15 kilometers from Sedan. </span>
General Guderian began preparations for crossing the river and attacking the French 55th Infantry Division, which had occupied positions on the opposite bank of the river.
The attack did not go as planned.
Orders to subordinate units did not arrive in a timely manner, close air support coordination proved difficult, and units strung out for miles had a hard time consolidating for the attack. Nevertheless, 13 May 1940 the 1st Panzer Division led the attack on Sedan. Resistance rapidly crumbled and the Germans were across the Meuse River.
<span>The city of Sedan and the Meuse River. According to the French high command the Germans could not cross the Meuse in less than ten days. The Germans were there in three and across in four..</span>
<span>Crossing site on the Meuse River used by the 1st Panzer Division on 13 May 1940. Hard to see on the far bank are the French bunkers defending the river.</span>
<span> Bunker 7ter. One of the many French bunkers on the high ground overlooking the Meuse River and Sedan.</span>
Despite several counterattacks to contain the breakout around Sedan, the French army could not stop the Germans.
Wanting to maintain the initiative, Guderian did not stop and consolidate his forces once across the Meuse River.
Instead he pivoted to the west and broke out from the breach he had created in the French lines.
Holding the French off to the south with one division, the remaining divisions in his corps began their turn west and continued to advance deeper into France.
<span>Though the 55th Division had not buried all its commo wire and completed all its bunkers, General LaFontaine, commander of the French division, constructed an impressive command bunker well behind front lines. Still beautiful 50 years later, one can only imagine it its appearance in 1940. Unfortunately, it did little to help stop the Germans.</span>
<span>2nd Panzer Division had the hardest time crossing the Meuse River. Finally, with the assistance of 1st Panzer, the 2nd crossed late on 13 May 1940 near Donchery.</span>
<span>Commanding the countryside near Donchery were several French bunkers, which hampered the German advance. </span>
<span>Many historians have criticized the French defense during the opening days of the 1940 campaign; however, few deny that some of the toughest fighting took place near La Horgne.
Steel bridge over the Muese in Houx
Commanding the northernmost arm of Guderian’s Panzer corps–before he became an infamous figure in the war–Erwin Rommel’s division reached the Meuse, on the same day as Guderian, but roughly 40 miles to the north, just above Dinant.
His route, unlike Guderian’s, did not go through undefended Luxembourg, and Rommel ran into more resistance. But the roads were better and Rommel, himself, was driven like no other division commander.
When he reached the Meuse at Yvoir, the bridge had been blown. Rommel went up river (south) to find a crossing. Here, in an area with low river banks, he found an old weir, or low dam, between the shore and a small island at the little village of Houx. The weir extended to the western bank.
Rommel promptly got troops across on top of the weir, under cover of darkness. It’s all there today, except that the old wooden dam has been replaced with steel and a foot bridge. As they reached the far side, history books describe the troopers as crouching under the bank fighting off French defenders, but in fact there are no steep sides here and the country to the west is reasonably flat.
The next morning, several hundred yards upstream, Rommel strung a cable over the
Flat country near Rommel’s river crossing
river capable of carrying pontoon-supported vehicles. After commandeering another division’s bridging equipment (his had been used farther back) a full pontoon bridge was laid a mile upstream, at Bouvinges, on May 14.
Tanks were moved over the Meuse both here and at Sedan.
<span>Steel bridge over the Muese in Houx</span
On this day in 1942, a bill establishing a women’s corps in the U.S. Army becomes law, creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) and granting women official military status.
It would take until 1978 before the Army would become sexually integrated, and women participating as merely an “auxiliary arm” in the military would be history. And it would not be until 1980 that 16,000 women who had joined the earlier WAACs would receive veterans’ benefits
On the Western Front… The German panzer divisions cross the Meuse River in two places at Sedan and Dinant. The French troops opposing them have not prepared their positions properly and are quickly demoralized and terrorized by heavy dive-bomber attacks. At Sedan Guderian is right at the front, urging his troops on and at Dinant the young commander of the 7th Panzer Division, General Rommel, is also doing well. Farther north the Germans take Liege and in Holland the defense has now been totally disrupted. The advancing German ground troops have linked with the paratroops at Moerdijk. French 7th Army (Giraud) is in full retreat.
German assault troops crossing the Meuse
On the Western Front… After a surrender demand has been submitted but before it has expired, Rotterdam is very heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. The Dutch Commander in Chief, General Winkelmans, decides that he must surrender. Meanwhile, German armor pours across the Meuse River at Sedan and Dinant. French tank units in both areas, but especially at Sedan fail to put in any concerted counterattacks and are brushed aside. There are considerable air attacks on the German bridgeheads by both British and French bombers. Many of the attacking planes are shot down. Once across the river the Germans drive west, cutting a huge gap between the French 9th Army (Corap) and 2nd Army (Huntziger) — which has no orders on which way to retreat.
Rotterdam after the German bombing
Britain… Recruiting begins for a volunteer home-defense force from men in reserve occupations or too old or young for military service. This force is to be called the Local Defence Volunteers. In July the far more effective title of Home Guard is chosen.
Invasion of Norway… A transport carrying a large part of the British 24th Guards Brigade to join the holding forces south of Narvik is bombed and sunk by the Germans. Much equipment is lost.
French infantry on the march</span>
As on the 14th of May the city of Rotterdam was heavily bombed by 84 Heinkel He-111 bombers, this catastrophe caused the Dutch commander-in-chief General Winkelman to surrender, as the Germans threatened to bomb Utrecht, maybe more cities.
15 May 1940,
The Netherlands surrenders to Nazi Germany at Rijsoord. Seys-Inquart Government Commissioner of the Netherlands, numbers of losses after 4 days war: 2890 killed; 6889 wounded; 29 missing.
After five days of war, only 36 Dutch aircraft were left.
Some of the airmen (mostly from the pilot school), took the chance to escape with their planes to France. They had to leave their planes their and were shipped to Great Britain.
A number of remained aircraft were destroyed by their crew and some were captured by the Germans.
In 1943 the Dutch airmen got their own squadron. As allied pilots they served over Britain, took part in D-Day in France and actions over Holland and had a humble part in destroying the entire German Luftwaffe.
15 May – 24 RAF Blenheims attack bridges and communications targets in Belgium. 3 aircraft lost.
Also… Britain begins strategic bombing campaign against Germany when RAF bombs targets in the Ruhr.
May 15 1940 – The German 20th Panzer Korps (Hoth) repels a counter-attack by French armoured forces, destroying 125 out of 175 tanks.
An attack by 6th Army (von Reichenau) against the Dyle line in Belgium is repulsed.
In Paris, panic breaks out over reports of a German breakthrough at Sedan with thousands of civilians fleeing the city for the west and south of the country, clogging the roads for Allied military traffic which is attacked by Luftwaffe bombers and fighter bombers
On the Western Front… The Dutch army capitulates at 1100 hours. General Bilotte, commanding the French 1st Army Group, decides to abandon the Dyle line in the face of Reichenau’s attacks. His superior, General Georges, concurs with the decision and is now in fact beginning to lose his nerve. At this stage Gamelin, the Supreme Commander, remains oblivious and confident. The German tank forces push forward, urged on all the time by their commanders who are up with the leaders and in complete control of the situation. Their momentum is maintained by this leadership. The optimistic atmosphere at French GHQ is partly dispelled by the news that Guderian’s tanks have reached Montcornet less than 15 miles from Laon. Guderian is ordered to halt here but after vigorous complaints he is allowed another day’s march.
Dutch soldier waves the white flag of surrender
In London… This is a vital, symbolic day for several reasons. At crucial meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the War Cabinet, Air Marshal Dowding argues strongly against sending any more RAF fighters to France. Despite strong opposition Dowding has his way. The decision is taken also to send the first strategic bombing raid against the Ruhr. Finally on this day Churchill sends the first in a long series of telegrams to Roosevelt, signing himself as Former Naval Person. He asks consistently for American aid, works to develop a good relationship with Roosevelt and above all to bring America closer to active participation in the war. Already in this first message he presents a shopping list which includes old destroyers and aircraft as well as other arms.
On the Western Front… The British and French forces which advanced into Belgium only a few days ago, begin to retreat to their former positions behind the line of the Scheldt. Units of Hoth’s 15th Panzer Corps, with Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division well to the fore, have reached just east of Cambrai to the south Guderian’s forces are moving on St. Quentin. Again a halt order is issued to the German tank forces because some of the more conservative minds at army headquarters cannot accept that the panzers can advance so far without exposing their flanks. In fact the speed of the advance has itself protected them and thrown the French into confusion.
BEF Mark VI light tanks on the march
In Paris… Perhaps the best indication of the German success is the conversation between Churchill and Gamelin in which Churchill asks where the strategic reserve is and is told that there is none, or at least none left. Outside the room where this meeting takes place French government employees are beginning to burn secret files.
In Washington… Roosevelt asks Congress to authorize the production of 50,000 military planes per year and for a $900,000,000 extraordinary credit to finance this massive operation.
15/16 May – 39 Wellingtons, 36 Hampdens and 24 Whitleys (99 aircraft in total) despatched to 16 targets in the vital Ruhr industrial area of Germany. 81 aircraft report bombing their primary or secondary objectives. 1 Wellington lost. 6 Wellingtons and 6 Whitleys also raided targets in Belgium without loss. These are the first Bomber Command raids to the east of the Rhine and mark the beginning of Bomber Command’s Strategic Offensive.
16/17 May – 6 Hampdens and 6 Wellingtons bomb oil targets in the Ruhr with 1 aircraft being lost. 9 Whitleys attack communications sites without loss.
French General Charles de Gaulleââ‚¬™s 4th Armored Division made the only Allied counterattack on the Meuse bridgehead. The French tanks, especially the Char B1bis and the Somua, were superior one-on-one to the German Panzerkampfwagen pzkpfw I and II panzers. But the Germans required their tanks to have radios to allow maneuver as a group, and the French used tanks as infantry support. De Gaulleââ‚¬™s attack was too little too late.
Churchill flew to Belgium on May 16. General Gamelin, shocking Churchill with the hemorrhage of the front at Sedan, listed defeat after defeat as the weight of five German divisions bared down on Paris. ââ‚¬Å“Where is the strategic reserve?ââ‚¬Â asked Churchill. ââ‚¬Å“There is none.ââ‚¬Â Replied Gamelin. Churchill returned to London with the first of two great shocks of the war, the other was the loss of the HMS Prince of Wales in December 1941.
The shocked French command began to break down. The World War I hero General Weygand replaced Gamelin. Attempting to pull together his forces, Weygand flew to the front, but was forced down and lost contact with his high command. Another French General, Billote, was killed. BEF Commander Lord Gort was without orders for four critical days.
<span> The Forces On paper, the German and Allied forces were roughly evenly matched. The Germans offensive fielded 136 divisions against 94 French divisions, and the 10 British divisions of the British Expeditionary Force. 22 Belgian and 9 Dutch divisions were also involved. The numbers of tanks fielded on each side was also approximately equal. It was only in the air that the Germans enjoyed massive superiority: 2500 aircraft against a few hundred British, and largely obsolete French aircraft.
The quantity of the Allied troops was fine. The quality was not. Britain and France had been largely unprepared for war, and the training of their conscript armies was abysmal. In Britain, ammunition shortages had the notorious result of each recruit being allowed only five rounds in total for rifle training. The French conscripts were more badly trained still. Fortunately, the small British Expeditionary Force had many professional troops rather than recent conscripts.
By contrast, the Germans side had had much more intensive and elaborate training. Accurate, full-scale mockups of crucial fortifications were built in Germany, and troops rehearsed their attacks until perfect. </span>
The “phoney war” was over. On May 10, 1940, upwards of seventy airfields in France, Belgium and the Netherlands came under heavy attack from the Luftwaffe, at that time rampant across the skies of northern Europe.
Aware that the crucial Battle of Britain was to come, Fighter Command’s Hugh Dowding could risk but four squadrons of his valuable Hurricane fighters to support the British Expeditionary Force as it fought its rearguard action in France. In the face of the overwhelming might of Germany’s Blitzkrieg tactics, the RAF Hurricane Squadrons were involved in some of the most ferocious and sustained air fighting of the entire war. In spite of being so heavily outnumbered, in May and June of 1940, almost 1300 Luftwaffe aircraft fell to the guns of the young RAF pilots, though at a heavy price.
Based at a temporary forward airfield at Lille Marc, the Hurricanes of No. 87 Squadron were in the thick of the fighting. Flying the early model Mk Is, armed only with machine guns, their task was to beat back the incessant air attacks on the British ground forces, and to do what they could to hamper the advance of the German Panzer divisions as they plundered inexorably towards Dunkirk.
Flying from ill-prepared grass strips, with groundcrews making the best of what meagre facilities were on hand, the Hurricane pilots literally flew themselves to a standstill
During the day German panzers reach the Serre River in France, then stop.
<span> German column is attacked on the road to Marcke.</span>
16/17 May – 6 Hampdens and 6 Wellingtons bomb oil targets in the Ruhr with 1 aircraft being lost. 9 Whitleys attack communications sites without loss.
<span>Handley Page Hampden</span>
17 May – No 82 Squadron are tasked with attacking an enemy armoured column near Gembloux. 12 Blenheims, led by Squadron Leader Paddy Delap, are despatched but owing to mix-up in timings, a planned escort of Hurricane fighters fails to show. The tight formation is broken up by a mobile flak battery near the target and the formation becomes easy prey to 15 German BF109 fighters. Eleven aircraft are shot down. The only aircraft to survive the raid later crash-landed in England because of heavy damage.
17/18 May – Oil installations in Hamburg and Bremen are attacked by 48 Hampdens and 24 Whitleys respectively. A further 6 Wellingtons bomb railway yards at Cologne while 46 Wellingtons and 6 Hampdens attack German troops in Belgium. No losses.
Handley Page Hampden
<span>Hampden was designed as a medium day-bomber</span>
Like the Wellington, the Hampden was designed as a medium day-bomber and was the last of the trio of front-line twin-engined bombers to enter service with Bomber Command. The Hampden suffered greatly due to a lack of manoeuvrability and defensive firepower (it was not fitted with powered fun turrets) at the hands of the German fighters during the early daylight bomber raids of the ‘Phoney War’.
The Hampden was designed to meet Specification B9/32 (as was the Wellington) issued in September 1932. Handley Page designed the aircraft with a very slim, deep fuselage to decrease drag although, as crews later found out on extended operations, its cramped interior did increase fatigue somewhat. Extending back from the forward fuselage was a very slim tailboom and it was not long before the Hampden was christened the ‘Flying Panhandle’ by those who flew it.
The prototype made its first flight on 21 June 1936, six days after the Wellington, and the most obvious difference from production aircraft was the angular nose profile as a final design had not yet been settled on. Part of the problem was trying to marry the fuselage to existing powered turrets, a problem which was solved by deleting the requirement in favour of a glazed nose with fixed-position gun.
Shortly after the first Hampden’s maiden flight, the Air Ministry placed an order for 180 aircraft and the first of these began to enter service with No 49 Squadron at Scampton in August 1938 replacing Hawker Hind biplane day-bombers. As was the practice of the time, entire groups concentrated on a single aircraft and No 5 Group’s complement of 8 front-line squadrons were operational on Hampdens by September 1939.
At the same time as the order for 180 production Hampdens was placed, a further 100 aircraft powered by different engines, Napier Daggers in place of Bristol Pegasus’, were ordered. These re-engined aircraft were known as Herefords, but no further orders were forthcoming and the Herefords served only in the training role.
Hampdens joined the first Bomber Command daylight operation of the war when aircraft of No 83 Squadron (one of which was piloted by Guy Gibson) joined an attack on German naval vessels in the Schillig Roads along with Wellingtons and Blenheims. Unlike their counterparts, the Hampdens failed to locate their targets and returned to Scampton after releasing their loads over the North Sea. Daylight operations continued – but at a price. It was noted that German Me110s would formate on the Hampdens, out of reach of the gun positions (just forward and off to one side), for some time before the enemy gunners would strafe the bombers and send them earthwards.
<span>In its original configuration, the Hampden was armed with a single, dorsally mounted gun covering the sky above and behind the aircraft; another single gun in the belly which was sighted to fire on targets behind and below the aircraft, and a gun in the nose which was operated by the pilot.
The mounts of the dorsal and belly guns, according to Harris, “were rickety and had a limited traverse with many blind spots.” And the pilot’s gun was almost worthless. He had to be lucky enough to have targets fly directly in front of him, at a moment when he had nothing else to do of course, or he had to maneuver the bomber like a fighter, a difficult task at any time, an impossible task on a final bomb run.
Nevertheless, there is a record of a Hampden pilot successfully downing a German fighter. Eventually, the Hampden was armed with six of the Vickers machine guns, including one that the observer could poke out of ports cut into each side of the fuselage.
Harris also ordered improved mounts for the dorsal and belly guns. Even with these improvements, however, the Hampden’s crew enjoyed rather less firepower than a modestly-armed terrorist does today. Harris didn’t mince words when he said the Hampden was “cold meat for any determined enemy fighter in daylight.”
The Hampden had yet another serious shortcoming: its crew compartment was so narrow ââ‚¬” scarcely three-feet wide ââ‚¬” that crew members could move about only with difficulty.
If a crew member was wounded, it was virtually impossible for other crewmen to come to his aid. If the pilot was seriously wounded, it was unlikely that anyone would survive: although observers were trained as pilots, the chances of getting a wounded pilot out of the cockpit, to be replaced by the observer, were slim indeed.
The back of the pilots seat would have to be laid flat, and his body would have to be dragged out of the cockpit while the observer awkwardly scrambled over the pilot and into the cockpit. Even practicing this maneuver in the safety of English skies proved to be deadly and was soon abandoned.</span>
The Hampdens were then modified with additional guns (but still on fixed mountings) and armour-plating but the losses to both Hampdens and Wellingtons on daylight operations continued to be unacceptable and both types were eventually switched to the night offensive.
The aircraft did find a niche for itself in Bomber Command as an ideal platform for carrying aerial mines. Many ‘Gardening’ sorties were flown in enemy waters by Hampdens and they continued in this role for the remainder of its bomber service.
The first two VCs awarded to Bomber Command personnel were to Hampden crew-members. The first was to Flight Lieutenant RAB Learoyd of No 49 Squadron in August 1940 for his leadership of a successful attack on a viaduct on the important Dortmund-Ems canal during the night of 12th/13th August 1940. The second was, unusually, not to a pilot but a wireless operator/gunner. Sergeant John Hannah was awarded the medal for extinguishing a fire in a Hampden of No 83 Squadron he was flying in which had been badly damaged during an attack on Antwerp during the night of 15th/16th September 1940.
By the time of the 1,000-bomber raids of May/June 1942, the Hampden was nearing the end of its service with Bomber Command and the final operation by Hampdens took place in mid-September 1942 when No 408 Squadron RCAF were in action over Wilhelmshaven.
<span>144 Sqn. Hampden… which didnââ‚¬™t quite make it!</span>
Hampden Mk I
Type four-crew bomber, torpedo bomber, & minelayer
Service entry August 1938
Engine Two 980hp (kN) Bristol Pegasus XVIII 9-cyl. radials
Wing area 69′ 2″ (21.08m)
53′ 7″ (16.33m)
14′ 11″ (4.55m)
Maximum 11,780 lb (5343 kg)
18,756 lb (8508 kg)
21,000 lb (9526 kg)
Max cruising 265 mph (426 km/h) at 15,500 ft (4724m)
Inital Climb 980 ft (298m) /min
Service Ceiling 22,700 ft (6919m)
Armament Up to six 0.303-in mgs in nose, dorsal & ventral positions
4,000 lb (1814 kg) of bombs internally, two 500 lb (223 kg) bombs underwings or one 18″ torpedo
Range 1200 miles (1931 km) /w max bomb load
1885 miles (3033 km) /w 2,000 lb (907 kg) bomb load
Hampdens had found a new lease of life as torpedo-bombers with Coastal Command and operated as such until the end of 1943. These were the last operations of the 1,453 Hampdens to serve with the RAF.
On the Western Front… Troops of the German 6th Army (Reichenau) enter Brussels. Antwerp and the islands at the mouth of the Scheldt are also being abandoned but have not yet been taken by the Germans. The British and French forces in Belgium have now fallen back to the Dendre River. General Gort is now worried by the growing threat to his right flank and rear areas and, therefore, forms a scratch force to defend this area. General Mason-Macfarlane is put in command. [He has up till now been Gort’s Chief of Intelligence. Gort can be criticized for weakening this important department at such a vital stage.] In the main German attacks Guderian’s forces, exploiting the loophole in their orders allowing reconnaissance in force, reach the Oise River south of Guise. On the German left flank, the French 4th Armored Division (Colonel de Gaulle) attacks northward from around Laon. The Luftwaffe attacks them fiercely and prevents any real gains.
German armor enters Brussels
In Belgium… The government has moved to Ostend.
In Norway… The British cruiser Effingham
goes aground and is lost while carrying men and stores to join the forces south of Narvik.
Den Haag – Italie 1940 – Retour afzender – Verbinding verbroken
Den Haag – Rome 18.5.1940
Stempel: Retour Afz. – Verbinding verbroken
Read the closeup letter below
On the Western Front… St. Quentin and Cambrai are taken by German panzer units. Farther north German 6th Army (Reichenau) takes Antwerp.
German armored column advances in France
In Holland… Artur Seyss-Inquart is appointed Reich Commissioner for Holland.
In Paris… Reynaud appoints a new Cabinet in an attempt to strengthen the French conduct of the war. He himself takes the Ministry of Defense, Marshal Petain is deputy prime minister and Mandel is Minister of the Interior. General Weygand, even older than Gamelin but far more vigorous, has been recalled from the Middle East to take over Supreme Command. Although these changes probably do strengthen Reynaud’s team, especially his own new office, they will turn out to have been ill-advised. Some of the new men, Petain in particular, will become deeply pessimistic about the outcome of the war and will in time bring Reynaud down when he himself would have preferred to fight on.
In Britain… Tyler Kent, a clerk at the US Embassy in London, and Anna Wolkoff, a Russian emigree, are arrested on spying charges. Kent has had access to the correspondence between Churchill and Roosevelt, and Wolkoff has helped pass it to Germany via Italian diplomats. Kent’s diplomatic immunity is waived by the United States ambassador. Wolkoff has had connections with a pro-Fascist organization, the Right Club.
Battle of France
The rapid German advance now poses a threat to the remaining RAF aircraft in Belgium. Evacuation of the remaining squadrons is carried out over the next two days, and fighter operations over the battlefield are carried out by Hurricanes and Spitfires based in southern England.
General Gamelin is replaced by Maxime Weygand as Chief of the French General Staff and C-in-C of all theatres of operations. Marshal Henri Petain, the hero of the First World War, is appointed as Deputy Prime Minister. German troops of 20th Panzer Korps (Reinhardt) capture St. Quentin.
18/19 May – Oil refineries and railways in Germany along with enemy troops in Belgium attacked by 24 Wellingtons, 24 Whitleys and 12 Hampdens (60 aircraft in total).
On the Western Front…
French General Gamelin orders an attack into the southern flank of German General Guderian’s Panzer corps.
Most of the German panzer forces halt in positions between Peronne and St. Quentin to regroup but some of Guderian’s troops are still pushing forward.
Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division also makes a small advance in the direction of Arras.
De Gaulle’s 4th Armored Division again attacks north from around Laon. It makes very good progress against gradually stiffening resistance but is ordered to retire before any real gains can be achieved.
The possibility that it will be necessary to evacuate the BEF is raised for the first time in telephone conversations between London and the commanders in the field.
The government are still optimistic at this stage. The main British forces are now in positions along the Scheldt.
The air force did its best to support Colonel Charles de Gaulle’s armored thrusts toward Montcornet on 16 and 17 May.
Night fighters received day ground assault missions, and the remains of the bomber units were committed.
But Colonel de Gaulle failed to tell the air force the time and direction of his movements. As a result, 68 bomber sorties went in before de Gaulle moved and were of no assistance to him.
19/20 May – 36 Hampdens, 30 Wellingtons and 12 Whitleys despatched to a number of targets in France, Belgium and Germany. 2 Whitleys lost.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
Twin-engined monoplane bomber. The Whitley was one of the first heavy night bombers of the RAF, and the first RAF aircraft with a stressed-skin fuselage. It had a characteristic nose-down flying attitude, because of the high incidence of the wing. Performance was mediocre, and from 1942 onwards it was used as trainer and glider tug.
<span>Armstrong Whitworth Whitley</span>
From the outset, the Whitley was utilised by Bomber Command as a night bomber, complementing the daylight missions of the Wellington and Hampden, the type was the RAF’s first ‘heavy’ bomber.
The Whitley was designed in response to Specification B3/34 issued in July 1934 and within two years the first Whitley had made its maiden flight and the first orders for the new aeroplane (160) had been placed. Although far more capable than the aircraft it replaced (such as the Fairey Hendon and Heyford biplanes), the Whitley was hardly a modern looking aircraft with a slab-sided fuselage and prominent, jutting chin and a very distinctive nose-down flying attitude. It was however, capable of carrying a very impressive bombload of 7,000lb.
<span>Whitley V </span>
One feature which dogged the Whitley during its early career was the unreliability of its two Armstrong Siddeley Tiger engines and later marks were fitted with the ubiquitous Rolls Royce Merlin.
Initial aircraft were delivered to Dishforth-based No 10 Squadron in a year after the maiden flight of the prototype, with sister squadron No 78 following in July and No 58 at Boscombe Down in October. These Whitley Is and the subsequent Mark IIs, fitted with Improved Tiger engines, had left front-line squadrons by the outbreak of war and the Mark III (improved armament and minor design tweaks) was the standard version in service with Bomber Command. These, in turn, were being replaced by the first Merlin-powered version the Mark IV and then the definitive Mark V with later model Merlins.
The Whitley’s first operations of the war ironically were not to drop bombs on German targets, but leaflets, and these duties continued well into 1940. The first bombing raids on Germany were made in May by Nos 77 and 102 Squadron from Driffield. Following Italy’s entry into the war in the following month, 36 Whitleys from 5 squadrons in No 4 Group, visited Turin and Genoa, but many encountered bad weather over the Alps and were forced to turn back due to icing – another problem that was never cured with the aircraft.
During the Spring of 1940, the Wellingtons and Hampdens had been withdrawn from daylight operations after a series of heavy losses and the three different types now took the war to Germany by night and aircraft of all three types made the first raid on Berlin in August.
Because of its better range, the Whitleys were used on some of the longest-range sorties in the early years, with the raid on the Skoda factory in Czechoslovakia (a return trip of almost 1,500 miles, much of the outward leg being flown over enemy territory in daylight). Many famous bomber pilots cut their teeth on ops with Whitleys including Leonard Cheshire (later awarded the VC whilst serving with No 617 Squadron), Don Bennett (commanded the Pathfinders) and James Tait (commanded 617 Squadron and awarded 4 DSOs).
As the Command slowly moved across to four-engined operations with the arrival of the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster, the Whitleys were gradually withdrawn from the Main Force, although a number did participate in the first 1,000-bomber raids in May 1942. The last Whitley operational sorties had been flown some 4 weeks previously against Ostend.
After Bomber Command, Whitleys equipped a number of Coastal Command units, their long range being an advantage for the extended patrols over the Atlantic, and the first U-boat was sunk by an aircraft from No 502 Squadron in November 1941. Other Whitleys made the first paratroop drops during Operation Colossus, the failed attack on the Tragino viaduct in Italy and also on the daring raid to seize German radar equipment from Bruneval in the Channel coast. A small number of Whitleys also served with Nos 138 and 166 (Special Duties) Squadrons into 1943.
<span>Whitley II with covered nose</span>
Primary function Heavy bomber
Power plant Two 12cylinder Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines
Thrust 2x 1,145 HP 2x 854 kW
Wingspan 84 ft 25.6 m
Length 70.5 ft 21.5 m
Height 15 ft 4.57 m
Weight empty 19,330 lb 8,768 kg
max. 33,500 lb 15,196 kg
Speed max. 222 mph 357 km/h
cruising about 185 mph about 297 km/h
Initial climb rate 800 ft/min 244 m/min
Ceiling 20,000 ft 6,100 m
Range 1,647 mi 2,650 km
Armament 5x 7.7 mm machine gun; 3,175 kg bombs
First flight 17.3.1936
Date deployed 1937 (version I)
Number built 1,737 all versions
Amsterdam – Zwitserland 1940 – Postverbinding verbroken
Amsterdam – Geneve 19.5.1940
Etiket: Terug afzender – Postverbinding verbroken Em. Duif
19 – 20th May.1840
German losses were horrendous and when the remaining squadrons were again thrown against Hannover on the 19 – 20th May, most were convinced that only the desperation associated with imminent defeat could have instigated such blunders. The French Imperial Air Force was now effectively ruling the skies over Germany.
On the Western Front… Most of the German panzer forces halt in positions between Peronne and St. Quentin to regroup but some of Guderian’s troops are still pushing forward. Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division also makes a small advance in the direction of Arras. De Gaulle’s 4th Armored Division again attacks north from around Laon. It makes very good progress against gradually stiffening resistance but is ordered to retire before any real gains can be achieved. The possibility that it will be necessary to evacuate the BEF is raised for the first time in telephone conversations between London and the commanders in the field. The government are still optimistic at this stage. The main British forces are now in positions along the Scheldt.
French armor rolls forward under attack
Allies break the Enigma code that had been changed three weeks ago.
In the West, units of XIX. Panzerkorps (Guderian) German 1st Panzer Division seizes Amiens, France and the German 2nd Panzer Division forces advance to the Channel coast at Abbeville, separating the British Expeditionary Force (Gort) and the Belgian Army from the French forces to the south.
A battalion of German 2nd Panzer Division passes through Noyelles, reaching the sea near AbbÃ©ville, France. This battalion is the first German unit to reach the Atlantic coast, just ten days after the start of the offensive.
The Battle of Arras
Until now, the Germans had been content to race along westward, bouncing off French forces which had dug in along their line of advance. In reality, though, this meant that the French line was along an east-west parallel, one which mirrored the German advance. At Arras, however, this was about to change. Here the Allied line took on a north-south axis from St Quentin to Lille. And it was exactly here that the Germans had planed to move through & onwards towards Calais & the English Channel.
The Battle of Arras, which started on 20 May, was in effect three different battles. To the south of Arras commenced the Battle of Peronne. Here stood the French 6th & 9th Armies. Although the 6th Army was new to the front line, the area had already been prepared well by the 9th Army. With Guderian in the lead, the German 16th Army attacked without hesitation. Although successful at first, the French rallied themselves & held the Germans. The Battle of Peronne would continue for 2 days. The French, although sustaining heavy causalities, held the Germans.
At around the same time, in the centre, the Battle of Arras proper took place. The German 4th Army came straight at Arras itself. The defence at first was confusing because Arras was the army border between the 9th French army & the BEF. The Germans, however, did themselves a miss-service by getting themselves entangled in & around the town. The BEF rushed forces to the sector, regardless of jurisdiction, & then managed to hold the Germans in place. By the time the Germans attacked again, French reinforcements from the 9th Army ensured that the Germans got nowhere.
Finally on 21 May, to the north of Arras, the BEF (reinforced with the 5th British Tank Brigade) came under attack between the towns of Lens & La Bassee. The Germans would throw four panzer divisions at them under the command of Rommel. It would be desperate, but good defences, which had been prepared since 10 May, stopped the German advance. Nonetheless, BEF casualties were heavy.
20 May – Escorted by RAF fighters, 47 Blenheims attempt to halt an armoured attack by German troops against the British Army on the Bapaume-Arras road. No losses.
20/21 May – 77 aircraft from 92 despatched (32 Wellingtons, 24 Whitleys and 18 Blenheims) continue the RAF’s attempt to halt the German advance in northern France.
<span>The Prototype Wellington</span>
The longest-serving of the trio of medium bombers with which Bomber Command at the outset of World War II, the Wellington, affectionately known as the ‘Wimpey’ by its crews, flew on many of the defining operations until its last bombing mission over the Reich in October 1943, although a few soldiered on with specialist units within the Command until January 1945.
The Wellington can trace its origins back to 1932 when, in answer to Air Ministry Specification B9/32, Vickers proposed a twin-engined ‘heavy’ bomber with an empty weight of 6,500lbs. (These limits were imposed by the Ministry in light of the on-going Geneva Conference on disarmament which was seeking to eliminate ‘heavy’ bombers in toto.) Utilising geodetic construction, a method of ‘weaving’ the individual struts of the fuselage structure to provide an incredibly resilient airframe, able to absorb tremendous damage, combined with a low weight penalty.
The first aircraft took to the air some four years later in June 1936 and was, for a short time, known as the Vickers Crecy (and appeared at the 1932 Hendon Air Display as such) before the name Wellington was adopted. The prototype differed from production aircraft in carrying no defensive armament, smaller tail (from the Stranraer flying boat), was slightly smaller and more streamlined.
The first true Wellington took to the air just before Christmas 1937, less than two years after a revised Specification, B29/35, had been drawn up around the Vickers design, and the first order for 180 aircraft placed for the RAF. The aircraft now featured nose and tail turrets designed by Vickers as well as a retractable ‘dustbin’ under the belly of the aircraft. These were quickly deleted and the nose and tail positions refitted with turrets from Fraser Nash.
The Wellington was almost a quantum leap ahead for Bomber Command both in terms of construction, payload (some three times greater than Heyford then in service) and armament. The first squadron to receive the Wellington was No 99 based at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, in October 1938 and by September 1939 a further seven squadrons (Nos 9, 37, 38, 115, 149, 214 and 215), and all in No 3 Group, had traded their Heyfords and Hendons for Wellingtons.
The type was principally involved in day operations, and the very first full day of conflict, 4 September 1939, saw 14 Wellingtons from Nos 9 and 149 Squadrons involved in action against the German fleet at BrunsbÃ¼ttel. This and subsequent daylight raids were flown against steadily increasing fighter opposition and the losses mounted. Bomber Command’s thinking of that time, namely that a concentrated formation of a bombers could defend itself against enemy opposition, was shown to be folly by two raids flown in December 1939.
<span>A Wellington II with Merlin Engines</span>
As a precursor to this, 24 aircraft from Nos 38, 115 and 149 Squadrons were ordered to attack German warships in the Heligoland Bight on the 3rd of the month. Cloud over the target area meant that no attacks could be carried out and no defending aircraft were encountered. Staff back at Bomber Command Headquarters believed that this meant that Wellingtons were able to successfully penetrate German defenders in daylight and ordered 12 aircraft from No 99 Squadron to attack German ships in the Schillig Roads on the 14th. Half of the aircraft involved were lost (three to flak and fighters, two collided and one crashed on landing). Then, four days later, 24 aircraft from Nos 9, 37 and 149 Squadrons were again ordered to the Schillig Roads. This time, fore-warned by radar stations, the fighters were able to intercept the formation en-route. Nine Wellingtons were shot down, three ditched into the sea and a further three were forced to seek other landing strips as they were too badly damaged to return.
Despite these losses, the Wellington was proving to be a sturdy aircraft, by far the most capable of the medium bombers in service at the time, and this was reflected in the numbers of aircraft being ordered. The Wellington’s capacious bomb bay also meant that it could carry the 2,000- and subsequent 4,000lb bombs.
By October 1940, the next version of the Wellington, the Mark II, was entering service. This aircraft had two of the famous Merlin engines instead of the earlier Tiger radials, but proved less popular and it wasn’t long before the Mark III, powered by Hercules radials, was introduced. The Mark IV, of which only 220 were built, followed in mid-1941 and served for about 18 months, primarily with the Polish squadrons.
<span>An Expermental Wellington with a Radar-Controled upper Turret</span>
Two interesting versions were then developed, the Marks V and VI. Both were intended for high-altitude operations and had a completely redesigned forward fuselage with a pressurised compartment for the crew and small bubble canopy for the pilot. Both versions had engines fitted with superchargers (Hercules’ and Merlins) to provide the additional performance required to achieve the higher altitudes, but neither was flown operationally, although a pair of Wellington VIs did join No 109 Squadron for a short time.
The final Wellington version to see service with Bomber Command was the Mark X which was introduced in late 1942. Of the 3,803 built, many saw active service in the Middle and Far East as well as at home with Coastal Command.
The peak of the Wellington’s service probably came in 1942, when just over half of the forces of the three 1,000-bomber raids flown in May and June was made up of Wellingtons.
<span>The Wellington is now extremely rare with only two extant examples in the World, one at the RAF Museum (UK) and the other at the Brooklands Museum (UK).</span>
But with the arrival of the four-engined heavy bombers, the Wellington’s days were numbered, but the type long out-lived the other twin-engined bombers with which Britain had taken the war to Germany in the first years of World War II (Hampdens and Whitleys), and is perhaps not given the recognition it deserves as the Lancaster and Mosquito claimed the limelight in the second half of Bomber Command’s war.
Over 11,000 Wellingtons were built in total, many surviving past the end of the war mainly in second-line duties with the RAF into the 1950s. Others became test aircraft for a variety of engines and armament installations with Service and civilian companies.
<span>The Vickers Wellington, affectionately known as the “Wimpy,” was armed with twin .330 machine guns in the nose and tail turrets. It also had 2 manually-operated .303 guns in the beam positions and could carry a 4,500 lb bomb load. Slow speed, limited ceiling, and a small bomb load soon made the Wellington obsolete, although one significant design advantage was Barnes-Wallace’s geodetic lattice-work fuselage construction. This made the Wimpy extremely tough, and it often survived battle damage which would have destroyed other aircraft. </span>
Vickers Wellington B.Mk III
Type:six-crew medium bomber
Powerplant: two 1,500-hp (1119-kW) Bristol Hercules XI air-cooled 14-cylinder radial piston engines
Performance: maximum speed 255 mph (410 km/h) at 12,500 ft (3810 m); initial climb rate 930 ft (283 m) per minute; service ceiling 19,000 ft (5790 m); range 2,200 miles (3540 km) with 1,500 lb (680 kg) of bombs, or 1,540 miles (2478 km) with 4,500 lb (2041 kg) of bombs
Weights: empty 18,556 lb (8417 kg); maximum take-off 29,500 lb (13381 kg) Dimensions:span 86 ft 2 in (26.26 m); length 60 ft 10 in (18.54 m); height 17 ft 5 in (5.31 m); wing area 840.0 sq ft (78.04 m2)
Armament: two 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine-guns in nose turret, four similar weapons in tail turret, and one similar weapon in each rear fuselage beam position, plus a maximum bombload of 4,500 lb (2041 kg), or one 4,000-lb (1814-kg) bomb
Throughout 19 and 20 May, the German force and their escorting aircraft continued north and west through Scandinavian waters. Though Group North had attempted to keep the route clear of shipping in order to preserve secrecy, to LÃ¼tjens’s dismay, there was a hole in Group North’s net: At approximately 1300 hours on 20 May, the neutral Swedish cruiser Gotland appeared on the horizon along the Swedish coast. For several hours, she steered a course parallel to the German fleet. Additionally, a few small fishing vessels were in the area.
LÃ¼tjens realised that it was almost certain that Gotland would report what she had seen ââ‚¬” his fleet had been exposed even before entering the North Sea. News of the German force’s movements had indeed been relayed to the British Admiralty ââ‚¬” unofficially via representatives of the Swedish government. Resistance operatives in Norway also monitored their progress up the Norwegian coast. The force was also seen by Norwegian citizens.
At this point, LÃ¼tjens once again changed his mind ââ‚¬” the force would now follow Group North’s recommendation and put into Bergen, Norway. Though his motives are unclear, it is possible he felt that since his ships had been sighted and almost certainly reported by Gotland, he had lost the impetus. It would be best to refuel at Bergen and then escape later under the cover of bad weather.
British Admiral Tovey’s Dilemma
Meanwhile, back at Scapa Flow, Admiral Tovey was considering how best to cover the possibility of a German warship breakout. On 18 May, Tovey ordered the cruiser H.M.S. Suffolk, which was on patrol in the Denmark Strait, to keep a special watch on the passage close to the ice pack. Further initial precautions followed: On 19 May, H.M.S. Norfolk, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker, Rear-Admiral Commanding First Cruiser Squadron, was ordered to proceed from Hvalfjord, Iceland and relieve Suffolk. Suffolk was to return to Hvalfjord to refuel and then rejoin Norfolk on patrol
On the Western Front… The German armored advance again makes considerable progress. The most spectacular gains are made by Guderian’s 19th Corps. Amiens is taken in the morning and in the evening Abbeville is captured. Advance units even reach the coast at Noyelles. The Germans have now driven a corridor at least 20 miles wide from the Ardennes to the Channel. The obvious need is for the British and French to cut through this corridor before its walls can be strengthened to cut off irrevocably the forces to the north. Before his dismissal Gamelin was planning such an attack, but it has been cancelled following his sacking only to be revived now by Weygand. The delay imposed by these changes of mind prevents it from retaining even a slim chance of success
First German troops reach English Channel
1940 (May) cover from SLOVENIA to Bohemia & Moravia with German censor label tied by rollar h/s. Riemer G-3a of Vienna.
Dienst Militair Groningen – Bergen 20.5.1940 – Aan bewaker ???
Groningen – Bergen 20.5.1940
Aan 1 Comp. Bewakingstroepen ( Luchtverdediging )
a “special unit” carries out its mission-and murders more than 1,500 hospital patients in East Prussia.
Mentally ill patients from throughout East Prussia had been transferred to the district of Soldau, also in East Prussia. A special military unit, basically a hit squad, carried out its agenda and killed the patients over an 18-day period, one small part of the larger Nazi program to exterminate everyone deemed “unfit” by its ideology. After the murders, the unit reported back to headquarters in Berlin that the patients had been “successfully evacuated.”
On this day in 1942, 4,300 Jews are deported from the Polish town of Chelm to the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor, where all are gassed to death. On the same day, the German firm IG Farben sets up a factory just outside Auschwitz, in order to take advantage of Jewish slave laborers from the Auschwitz concentration camps.
Sobibor had five gas chambers, where about 250,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1943. A camp revolt occurred in October 1943; 300 Jewish slave laborers rose up and killed several members of the SS as well as Ukrainian guards. The rebels were killed as they battled their captors or tried to escape. The remaining prisoners were executed the very next day.
The Battle of Arras was still raging.
<span>Mark II, Matilda II. </span>
Gen Gamelin ordered ‘Instruction No12’ on 19th June for
an attack towards Mezieres from the south, and the Somme
from the north. This was cancelled by Weygand on assuming
command, who also ordered the roads cleared of refugees
and the un-mothballing of as many WWI 75s as possible.
On the 20th while Weygand flew around over Northern France
having meetings, Gen Ironside ordered Gen Gort to
attack south with all possible strength at 0800 hours on
that day. Gort pointed out that seven of his nine divisions
were already engaged and refused. He said that he was
instead planning a limited attack with his two unengaged
divisions south from Arras.
<span>The Light Tank marks began in 1931 as a development of earlier experimental designs which could be traced back to the Carden-Lloyd tankettes. Early Light Tank marks (from I to IV) had two-man crews, increased to three with the Mark V. Although the speed and fair reliability of the Light Tanks compensated their poor armour and firepower, they proved of limited combat value, even in reconnaissance role.</span>
Ironsides then went to see Billotte (Gorts nominal
commander) and bullied Billotte and Blanchard into accepting
the attack plan, and it ws agreed that both armies would
attack with two divisions each on the 21st.
<span>This tank was a development of the Matilda I Infantry Tank whose main armament consisted of no more than either a .303 or a .50 Vickers mg. Such was the thinking behind pre World War II tank development in many Countries (including Britain) that it was considered that the fitting of larger calibre weapons was not warranted.
The Matilda Mark II arose out of a need to provide a better armoured and armed vehicle, which could act in the role of an infantry support tank.
For its time, the Matilda II was a heavily armoured vehicle and it was particularly successful in the early years of WW II at Arras, France 1940 and in the Western Desert during 1940-1941.
Unfortunately, its performance was hindered by its small calibre gun and relatively slow cross country performance. (NB: See notes on the Centurion Tank to see how much British tank development changed during World War II). Despite its shortcomings, it was more than capable of being used aggressively. This was especially demonstrated in the Western Desert where it was virtually immune against anti-tank and tank guns of the day. In its early conflicts in the Western Desert, its value as a shock assault weapon was significant and it soon earned the title “Queen of the Battlefield”. Unfortunately, it was soon outclassed by better enemy tanks and the German’s 88mm gun. However, it found a renewed operational life in the Pacific.
Although the design ideas were sound for their time, the Matilda could not be up-gunned as the turret ring was too small to accept a larger tank gun. However, it was found that a low velocity 3 in. howitzer could be fitted as a substitute for the tank gun. Such a weapon proved invaluable when operating against infantry, light skinned vehicles, bunkers and other fortifications.
Mechanically, the Matilda possessed a hydraulic, power operated turret. Its twin engines were linked through an epicyclic gearbox, which in turn drove a pair of rear sprockets. The suspension consisted of sets of bogies which were linked together and worked against horizontal compression springs.</span>
Attack was coordinated by Major General Franklyn (GOC
5th Div) and he was allotted 5th and 50th Div plus 1st
Army Tank Brigade.
BUT, the infantry divisions only had two brigades each, one
from 5th Div was sent to relieve the French on the river Scarpe
and the other brigade (17th) was held in reserve.
50th Div lost a brigade to garrison Arras itself and to hold the
river line east of the city.
So, all that was left for the attack were two battalions of
151st Brigade (50th Div), plus the armour.
<span>Infantry Tank Mk I “Matilda”
The Matilda I was the first of the Infantry Tanks line of vehicles, characterized by the emphasis placed on crew protection. The small Matilda’s designers had a twofold target : low cost and quick production rates.
In spite of its excellent protection, the Matilda I was obsolete by 1939. Production ceased after 139 had been built.
<span>Matilda II Compartment Drawnings</span>
<span>Fighting Compartment Looking Forward</span>
1st Army Tank Brigade started with 100 tanks, but by the 21st
its runners consisted of 58 Matilda Is and 16 Matilda IIs. It
may also have had some light Vickers IV or VI in the
regimental scout troops (not mentioned in Horne).
Meanwhile late on the 20th Blanchard informed Gort that the
French infantry could not attack until the 22nd, so instead
Priouxs Cavalry Corps was allotted to provide flank cover
to the West. Unfortunately Prioux had already lost most
of 1st DLM fighting Hoeppner,a nd the rest of his tanks had
lent to various infantry units, even by 1700 hours on the 20th
he had not succeeded in reassembling his armour. He was only
able to commit “a few weak detachments of 3rd DLM” – I believe
this amounted to around a battlion of H39s.
No RAF or ZOAN support was forthcoming.
The attack finally went in at 1400 hours on the 21st.
Gen Martel led from an open car. The troops were divided
into two equal sized columns of a tank battalion, an
infantry battalion (DLI – Durham Light Infantry) plus a
battery of field artillery and AT guns. These would probably
have been 18/25 pdrs (eight or twelve guns) and the AT guns
would be Swedish 37mm Bofors AT guns (three troops of four
each). The tanks seem to have been equally divided up.
The right hand column – fought to clear Duisans and left two
infantry companies & some AT to garrison it. Pushed on to
Warlus, again captured after a stiff fight, took Berneville,
and put troops across the Doullen-Arras road. The infantry
were pinned down by MG/mortar fire and attacked by Stukas.
The tanks left them behind and attacked Wailly where they
caused panic among the lead units of 3rd SSTK. They were now
overextended and the whole force fell back to Warlus with
heavy losses, where the British AT gunners and Priouxs tanks
fought each other! Some of the French tanks (six) than
engaged 25th Panzer Regiment around Duisans.
The left hand column – fought all the way but made rapid
progress. Took Dainville, destroying a “motorised column”
in the process (vehicles KO’d, troops made prisoner). Two
miles east six Matildas wiped out an AT battery near Achicourt
then pushed on to Agny and Beaurains, a few units reached
Wancourt on the River Cojeul (the objective of the attack).
Most of the heavy fighting took place in the Agny-Beaurains
area between 4th RTR and German 6th Rifle Brigade, backed up
by the Div artillery and Flak of 7th Panzer Div. Both sides
suffered heavy losses.
Meanwhile 150th Brigade (50th Div) attacked across the Scarpe
to Tilloy, and 13th Brigade also established a bridghead.
However it was obvious that the ground could not be held, and
the whole force fell back as 25th Panzer Reg approached Arras
from the west. They took 400 prisnoers, destroyed “large
numbers” of tanks and vehicles, but were left with only
26 Matilda Is and 2 Matilda IIs.
<span>Somua S-35 </span>
3rd SSTK evidently abandoned its positions in Wailly and
showed ‘signs of panic’ (Guderian).
Rommel was busy trying to round up 6th and 7th Rifle brigades
to support 25th Pz Reg when the attack started. He couldn’t
find 7th Bde.
He found elements of 6th Bde south of Wailly, and howitzers
north of the village were engaging British tanks. The village
itself came under MG fire as Rommel reached it. He found that
the vilage was jammed with troops and vehicles trying to take
cover (RtC!). West of Wailly were some light AA guns and AT
guns again hiding in full cover, and there were some destroyed
German tanks (he says Pz III, they must have been Pz38s).
The German infantry and gun crews in the village then broke and
ran. At this point Rommel brought up all the available guns,
both AA and AT and concentrated their fire on each group of
tanks, evidently with some success as the attack petered out
(this was the high water mark of the right hand column).
Rommel reports several British tanks destroyed or disabled,
and the rest retreating.
By the time he got the rest of 6th Rifle reg it had suffered
‘very heavy losses in men and material’ and he reports
the overrunning of their light AT batteries. He organised
a gun line between Agny and Beaurains from the Div artillery
and heavy AA (88) batteries – according to Guderian there
were at most six of these. This finished off the attack in the
north, one 88 battery claiming nine kills.
25th Panzer Reg eventually intervened, and Rommel reports the
destruction of seven tanks for the loss of nine of his own (no
mention of the French though) fighting NW of Arras.
He had lost ‘considerable numbers’ of tanks, 205 dead or wounded,
and 173 missing (presumably the remaining 200 prisoners were
from 3rd SS).
<span>Probably the best tank in the world at the beginning of WWII, it was made of cast parts instead of bolted plates, had up to two inches of armor in the turret, an excellent gun and was relatively fast at 25mph.
The tank did have one or two drawbacks… The one-man turret was one of them, the other was the fact that only 18 rounds of ammunition were carried for the main gun. As the cast hull did not lend itself well to conversions, some S35s stayed in their original configuration until the end of the war.</span>
On the Western Front…Rommel’s division is sharply attacked around Arras by British tank forces. The attack does very well at first largely because of the comparative invulnerability of the Matilda tanks to the standard German antitank weapons. After some panic on the German side the attack is halted, principally because of the fire of a few 88mm guns. The British force is too small to repeat the advance or to shake free from this setback. Weygand visits the commanders of the northern armies to try to coordinate attacks from north and south of the German corridor to the coast. By a series of accidents he misses seeing Gort, and Bilotte, to whom he has given the fullest explanation of his plans, is killed in a car accident before he can pass them on. The attack will never take place. The small British effort has already been made. The Belgians will try to free some more British units for a later effort but this will not be possible. The French themselves, both north and south, are already too weak.
British Matilda abandoned after the attack
In Norway… The French, Polish and Norwegian forces moving in on Narvik advance another stage and gain positions on the northern side of Rombaksfiord.
In Berlin… In a conference Admiral Raeder mentions to Hitler for the first time that it may be necessary to invade Britain. The German navy has made some preliminary studies before this but they have not been based on the availability of French bases. Little though is given to the possibility at this stage even after this conference.
While at their anchorages, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were repainted. Both took on additional supplies, and the Prinz Eugen topped up her fuel tanks, but the Bismarck did not. For some unknown reason, LÃ¼tjens and Lindemann decided not to top up the Bismarck’s fuel tanks while she was lying in Grimstadfjord. Bismarck had used a significant amount of fuel sailing from Gotenhafen to Norway, and it would have been prudent to refuel at that time, as was done for the Prinz Eugen. The only opportunity that remained for refuelling the Bismarck before she entered the Denmark Strait was by the german tanker Weissenburg, which was stationed in the Norwegian Sea above the Arctic Circle and was not too far off their intended course.
<span>V. Admiral Gunther Lutjens</span>
The information that LÃ¼tjens received from the German intelligence showed that as far as was known, all units of the Home Fleet were still at their base at Scapa Flow. The British Home Fleet appeared to be no serious threat to the breakout for the German task force along the more northerly routes that LÃ¼tjens could take.
<span>Kapitan zur See Ernst Lindemann</span>
The German task force could choose between four different routes into the North Atlantic. The passage between the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands, and the passage between the Shetland Islands and the Danish Faeroe Islands was rejected because of the short distance to the British RAF airbases in northern Scotland and the naval base at Scapa Flow. The only truly viable alternatives were either the passage between the Faroe Islands and Iceland or the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. LÃ¼tjens was not convinced of the safety of using the passage between the Faroe Islands and Iceland since his ships had been spotted by the Swedish cruiser Gotland and by Danish and Swedish fishing boats in the Kattegat. LÃ¼tjens decided to take the long way around through the Denmark Strait even though he was aware of the dangers of that route. Because of the pack ice surrounding Greenland, the passage between Iceland and Greenland was quite narrow. He also knew of the minefield that had been laid off the north-western coast of Iceland, but in the end, as the operational commander, the decision was up to him.
<span>ADMIRAL OF THE FLEET LORD TOVEY </span>
It was now very important for the British to locate the two German ships and to keep track of their movements. The Royal Air Force was requested to undertake reconnaissance missions along the coast of Norway in an attempt to locate and positively identify the reported German warships. On the morning of 21 May, RAF photographic-reconnaissance Spitfires took off from northern Scotland to scout the lower portion of the Norwegian coastline, especially its fjord systems which could easily hide the ships.
Shortly after noon on 21 May, one of the Spitfires (Flying Officer Michael Suckling) flew at high altitude over the fjord system in the area of Bergen, Norway and routinely photographed all of the possible anchorages in sight. One photograph taken over Grimstadfjord showed a large ship surrounded by several much smaller ones. The size of the ship and a measurement of its beam-to-length ratio was indicative of a modern battleship. The British was certain that the Bismarck had been found.
After the discovery of the Bismarck in Grimstadfjord, RAF Bomber Command was immediately ordered to attack her anchorage.
<span> Bismarck photographed in Grimstadfjord by a British photographic-reconnaissance Spitfire.</span>
At 1930, 21 May the Bismarck weighed anchor and headed north to join the Prinz Eugen and the destroyers outside Kalvanes. The formation continued on its way. Later that evening, the weather got worse and the sky became completely overcast. At about 2300 they turned away from the rocky shoreline, the destroyers in the lead, followed by the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen.
<span> At 1930, 21 May Bismarck weighed anchor and headed north to join the Prinz Eugen and the three destroyers in Kalvanes Bay.</span>
During the night of 21 May the area, where Bismarck were sighted, was heavily bombed by the British, but due to poor visibility, the planes returned without being able to report the results of their raid. The next day, an RAF Coastal Command reconnaissance plane scouted the area and found the anchorages to be empty. At this time it was more than 24 hours since the RAF photographic-reconnaissance Spitfire (Flying Officer Michael Suckling) had photographed the German task force at Bergen, and they could have sailed over 600 miles in that time.
<span>Prinz Eugen </span>
According to plan, around 0500 on Thursday 22 May, LÃ¼tjens released the destroyers that had shielded the formation from British submarines. The task force were in the latitude of Trondheim. From now on, the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen were alone, and the squadron continued northwards at 24 knots. LÃ¼tjens was still uncertain whether to go north or south of Iceland.
<span>Bismarck in front of Prinz Eugen in the North Atlantic.</span>
Steaming at 24 knots in hazy weather under an overcast sky, the task force reached a position approximately 200 nautical miles from the Norwegian coast, in the latitude Iceland-Norway, at about noon 22 May. Weather conditions, which seemed settled, were just what LÃ¼tjens hoped to encounter when he attempted to break out into the Atlantic through the northern passage. At noon, LÃ¼tjens advised the Prinz Eugen that he intended to go direct for the Denmark Strait but not to oil from Weissenburg (German tanker) unless the weather lifted. A fatal decision that would have consequences later for the Bismarck and her crew. What may have finally decided LÃ¼tjens to stick to the originally plan was the continuing poor visibility which meteorologists predicted would last to southern Greenland. The squadron altered from due north to north-west.
At 1237 22 May, the Bismarck sounded her submarine and aircraft alarms – a periscope sighting had been reported. The task force turned to port and steered a zigzag course for half an hour, but nothing transpired and at 1307 it resumed its former course. Due to poor weather and and thick fog the Bismarck shone her big searchlights astern to help the Prinz Eugen keep position. They were now in the northern latitudes, where the nights are almost as light as the days, so they could stay in a tight formation and maintain 24 knots even in poor visibility.
<span>She never sunk a single enemy vessel, but her crew fondly remember her as “the lucky ship.” Although heavily damaged on several occasions, Prinz Eugen was the only heavy surface unit of the Kriegsmarine to survive WW2 intact. Under the circumstances, it was more than could be expected. </span>
The British was now well aware that Bismarck was on her way trying to break out into the North Atlantic. Admiral Tovey ordered Hood and Prince of Wales to take station south of Iceland. There they would be in a position to cover the Denmark Strait passage or turn east to back up the forces covering the Faeroes-Iceland passage should the Bismarck appear in that area. The Suffolk was ordered to join the Norfolk, in the Denmark Strait. The light cruisers Arethusa, Birmingham and Manchester were directed to resume their patrol of the Faeroes-Iceland passage after refuelling at their bases in Iceland.
Admiral Tovey then formed his second task force from the remainder of the Home Fleet that was still at Scapa Flow. This included the battleship King George V, aircraft carrier Victorious, light cruisers Aurora, Galatea, Hermione, Kenya, and Neptune, and six destroyers. Admiral Tovey’s force left port some time before midnight on 22 May. The Repulse, about to embark on convoy duty, was recalled from the Firth of Clyde near Glasgow and ordered to join Admiral Tovey’s force at sea north-west of Scotland. There the task force would lie in wait behind the light cruiser screen, ready to pounce on the Bismarck should she attempt the Iceland-Faeroes passage, or be prepared to turn westward and support the Hood-Prince of Wales task force should the Germans come through the Denmark Strait.
At 2322 LÃ¼tjens ordered a course change to the west: a course toward the Denmark Strait.
<span>1945 Photo of the Prinz Eugen</span>
<span>Arado Stowage on the Prinz Eugen.</span>
On the Western Front… The German forces on the Channel coast turn their attacks to the north toward Boulogne and Calais. The Belgian forces retreat to the Lys.
German artillery firing at the railroad station in Hangest
In Paris… Churchill is discussing plans for an Allied offensive. Once more Weygand proposes an attempt to cut the German line to the Channel by attacks from the north and south. It is agreed that this should be attempted but in reality there is little with which to implement the plan.
In London… Parliament passes an Emergency Powers Act giving the government sweeping powers over the persons and property of British citizens.
May the 22nd.1940
The Fall Of Bregenz
The successful German defense of Bregenz had been a thorn in the side of the otherwise victorious French High Command for some time.
Not only a personal failure for the Emperor the intact alpine defense had so far made any serious French-Italian cooperation impossible.
Luckily for the Axis, this was to be changed in a short while; the old and trusted Field Marshal Gamelin commanded both French and Italian forces as they attacked on the early hours of May the 22nd.1940
The French 5th Army assaulted from the north while the Army Of The Alps under the command of the celebrated hero of the Spanish civil war Lt. General Gonzalez de Linares (holder of the prestigious Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece), the Italian 1st Army and the Alpine Army advanced from the south.
In all, three French and four Italian Mountain divisions participated in the offensive; furthermore the enormous bomber force of the 1st and 3rd Air Fleet assisted the attack.
The German defenders fought bravely but the absence of the Luftwaffe and the superior Axis firepower blew their positions to smithereens.
On the Western Front…
The German attacks on Boulogne continue.
Farther along the coast they are also attacking Calais. The Royal Navy is active in support of the British forces in both towns. During the day and later in the night destroyers are used to evacuate 5000 men from Boulogne and over the next three days two light cruisers and seven destroyers are in support near Calais.
There are also German attacks on the line of the Lys and around Tournai. The plans for the Allied counteroffensive depend on the Belgians being able to take over a longer section of the front but with this pressure they will not be able to do so. Meanwhile, the partial halt of the main German armored forces already made by Rundstedt is confirmed by Hitler. They have reached the line Gravelines – Omer – Bethune. Although the ground north of here is not well suited to armed action the Allied defenses are weak. The pause, which lasts until the morning of May 27th, gives the French and British time to strengthen this position and is generally seen as being the move which makes the evacuation of the BEF possible.
German armor halted in France
In Paris… The Supreme War Council decides to end its involvement in Norway. They agree to capture Narvik and destroy the port facilities before they will evacuate. Ironically the airfield at Bardufoss has only just received its first complement of British aircraft and already the campaign is seeming less one-sided, showing what might be done. The Norwegians are not yet told of the decision to leave.
The Battle of Dunkirk begins.
The city of Boulogne is captured by the Germans.
By evening British commander Gort cancels a planned advance to the south, and orders his troops north, so they can embark for England.
CASSEL May 1940
by Lieut-Col. E.M.B. Gilmore, DSO
(Back Badge 1946)
After the withdrawal of the BEF from the line of the River Scheldt, the 61st found itself for some hours at a village called Nomain, some miles south-east of Lilles. We received orders to proceed by motor transport, during the night of 24-25th May, to Cassel. Cassel is an important local road junction, whence roads lead to Dunkirk, Lille, Calais, St. Omer and other lesser towns.
The Battalion reached Cassel in the early hours of the morning, Saturday 25th May. With us were the 4th Ox and Bucks L.I., some RFA 18-pdrs, machine gunners from a TA Battalion of the Cheshire Regt, Brigade A.T. Unit and some French army elements. There were also some RAMC, RE, and Royal Signals personnel present. The first 2 days at Cassel were ones of rest. Houses and buildings forming a perimeter were linked by demolition or digging, and strengthened. Roads and lanes were blocked. The town was divided in half, the 4th Ox & Bucks LI holding the east, the 61st the west sector.
Capt. H.W. Wilson’s Company (“B”) linking on its right with the 4th Ox & Bucks, stretched along the perimeter to the north-west to join with “D” Coy. It faced an open area of country, with an isolated farm some 400 yards out in front which was occupied by No. 10 Platoon under 2nd Lieut. R. Weightman. Also in the Company were a party of French and later a platoon of the Cheshire Regt (MG).
Next to the left and facing west, was Capt. A.P. Cholmondeley’s Company (“D”) with the Battalion Mortar Platoon. This company area consisted mainly of a residential house surrounded by a small demesne. The foremost edge of the area was formed by an escarpment, below which was a small wooded enclosure. A section of machine guns occupied some cottages on the left, and of 2 roads which flanked either side of this company. British and French AT guns were included.
Round to the south-west and completing the Battalion perimeter was Capt. E.H. Lynn-Allen’s (MC) Company (“C”), holding a somewhat more difficult area, whose field of fire was minimized by small walled enclosures on the outskirts of the town.
The reserve consisted of Major W.H. Percy-Hardman’s (MC) Company (“A”), the remains of the Carrier Platoon under Sergt. Kibble, the available elements of HQ Company under CSM Haberfield, and the AT gun section under 2nd Lieut. J. Robertson, which was used to thicken up generally the anti-tank defence of the whole area. As usual in these days, the Battalion was very think on the ground. (Over 130 other ranks were reported missing after the bombing of “A” and “C” and HQ Companies in the bottle-neck traffic jam at Leuze near Tournai, on 19th May).
The Battalion “Keep” and HQ, with the RAP, was in and around the local bank in La Place Dunkirk. The organisation here was mainly due to the admirable efforts of Major Colin Campbell (MC) (2nd-in-Command), Capt. E. Jones (MID) (Adjutant), RSM G. Pearce (MID) and Lieut. Ian Spencer (MO). Later tactical moves led to a serious alteration in the disposition of the reserve. From “A” Coy. it was necessary to find 2 detachments which completely used up this company. The first of these alterations was the sending out of No.8 Platoon under 2nd Lieut. R.W. Cresswell (MC) to occupy a partially completed blockhouse about 2 and half miles out of Cassel on the road to Dunkirk, on the afternoon of the 26th. The second was the sending out of the rest of “A” Coy. under Major Percy-Hardman to occupy the village of Zuytpene, on the railway line west of the town; early hours of the morning of the 27th. A Company of the 4th Ox & Bucks LI was sent to occupy Bavinchove, also on the railway line, south by a mile or 2 of Zuytpene. These were the forward positions to break up any enemy onslaught before reaching the main position.
The enemy was first met on the 26th, when 2 patrol actions between the enemy tanks and carriers with AT guns occurred in the wooded area to the south-west. The main enemy effort began during the early morning of the 27th, when he attacked simultaneously from the west, south and south-east, using infantry supported by machine guns, mortars and tanks, with occassional assistance from the air, in which he had complete superiority. The Germans were also helped by obvious “Fifth Column” activities in Cassel itself. It was remarkable how Unit and Company HQ’s were perpetually singled out for accurate mortaring.
On this day the main enemy point of attack was aimed at the south-east part of the defences, near the neck linking up with Mont Des Recollets. But at the same time, attacks were maintained on the other parts, as well as the villages of Zuytpene and Bavinchove. No. 8 Platoon in the blockhouse came into action about 1800 hrs that evening. On no future occasion was contact ever regained with either Major Percy-Hardman or 2nd Lieut. Cresswell. Both were completely surrounded and cut-off, and both admirably fulfilled their role of holding on to their positions and inflicting the maximum delay and casualties on the enemy.
Zuytpene was attacked through the western end of the village at about 0800 hrs, when an aerial bombing, followed up with tanks, opened proceedings; infantry and mortars supported and by midday the enemy had surrounded the position. It was not until about 1900 hrs that 2 members of “A” Coy. (Ptes Tickner (MID) and Bennett) arrived at Battalion HQ in an exhausted state, having been sent earlier on by Major Percy-Hardman to try and get through the surrounding Germans. It was long afterwards learnt that the remnants of “A” Coy. at Zuytpene were finally forced to give in about 1900 hrs, when their last defensive position at Company HQ was in flames and a superior number of the enemy had got close enough to throw grenades into the cellar into which they had been finally driven. A final effort to reach “A” Coy. at Zuytpene was made during the night of 27-28th by means of a patrol under 2nd Lieut. S. Reeve-Tucker, but the enemy was too thick on the ground to get the patrol through.
No.8 Platoon, under 2nd Lieut. Cresswell, held out against continuous attacks from the evening of the 27th to the late aternoon of the 30th, when casualties, a fire in the blockhouse, lack of food and the ominous silence from Cassel caused them to give in to overwhelming numbers.
“D” Company suffered very heavily in casualties this first day of the attack. An enemy tank succeeded in getting into the grounds of the Company “Keep”. An attempt by a party from “B” Coy., consisting of Capt. Wilson, 2nd Lieut. Fane, CSM Robinson (MID), and Pte Palmer, to assist “D” Coy. by a flanking stalk against the tank was ended by a direct mortar bomb hit on their Boys rifle. Eventually the tank was set on fire by a hit from one of our AT guns.
“C” Coy. had a tough but successful time in dealing with hostile tanks, which pressed forward in support if infantry, against the company position. Sergt. Collins (MM) by himself put one tank out of action with a Boys rifle.
The enemy did not press his attack after darkness had fallen. On the 28th May the only real attack was made on “B” Coy. in the late afternoon, which was beaten off without much difficulty. An attempt was made to get a carrier through to No.8 Platoon, but it was impossible to get beyond the town owing to heavy machine gun fire.
On Wednesday 29th May a heavy and sustained attack broke out again, preceeded by an accurate mortar bombardment. “B” Coy. came in for the brunt of the day’s onslaught. No. 10 Platoon, in the farm forward of the company area, under command of 2nd Lieut. Weightman, was very heavily bombarded. 2nd Lieut. Weightman was killed by a direct hit. He had acted throughout most gallantly and had led his platoon ably in all the fighting. Cpl. C. Waite (MID) hung on with a few men until the situation was restored by Capt. Wilson.
Another serious loss was the death of 2nd Lieut. Gerry French, the Intelligence Officer, always indefatigable, cheerful, conscientious, and willing, who was killed by a mortar bomb while on a mission to liaise with the artillery.
It was a hard day, well borne, by the whole Battalion, but in spite of casualties and diminishing effective manpower, at no time did the enemy gain a footing anywhere. The Carrier Platoon had been used to reinforce dangerous points on the perimeter. HQ Coy. had also played its part and it is impossible to speak too highly of the Signallers under Sergt. Bartlet (MM?), the stretcher-bearers under Sergt. Tilton, or the Pioneers under PSM Murphy. Weaponless members of the AT gun section had been used to strengthen the emaciated Battalion Reserve.
The fighing died down about 1700 hrs and the enemy had withdrew. Movement could be seen away to the north, but too far away to engage with fire. About this time a warning order was received from Force HQ that the garrison would withdraw that night and try to rendezvous near the Dunkirk area. Hopes were high of being alble to get away, but what was not known was that this order was 24 hours delayed. The withdrawal after dusk, in spite of the close contact of the enemy, was carried out successfully, but the exasperating events of the next 2 days are another story.
About 100 men of the 2nd Glosters made it back home. 5 officers and 132 men were dead. 472 taken prisoner.
Also French Ground Forces in Indochina, May 1, 1940
The French comfortably held down the entire region with the equivalent of a reinforced divisionââ‚¬™s worth of infantry, a good proportion of whom were locally recruited troops. Just a few years later this would have been an impossibly tiny number.
The French Army in Indochina was organized into two divisions and a brigade:
Tonkin Division [Division du Tonkin DDT]
Cochinchina-Cambodia Division [Division de Cochinchine-Cambodge DCC]
Annam-Laos Brigade [Brigade d’Annam-Laos BAL]
The motorized detachments were reconnaissance units.
Tonkin Motorised Detachment (DMT)
Foreign Legion Motorised Detachment (DML)
9th Colonial Infantry Regiment
19th Mixed Colonial Infantry Regiment
5th Foreign Legion Infantry Regiment
1st Tonkinese Tirailleurs Regiment
3rd Tonkinese Tirailleurs Regiment
4th Tonkinese Tirailleurs Regiment
4th Colonial Artillery Regiment
Cochinchina Motorised Detachment (DMC)
11th Colonial Infantry Regiment
Annam Tirailleurs Regiment
Second Annam Tirailleurs Regiment
Cambodian Tirailleurs Regiment
5th Colonial Artillery Regiment ()
Annam Motorised Detachment (DMA)
10th Colonial Infantry Regiment
16th Mixed Colonial Infantry Regiment
South Annam Montagnard Tirailleurs Battalion
Air Units Groupe AÃ©rien Autonome 41
9 Potez 25
4 Farman 221
Groupe AÃ©rien Autonome 42
10 Potez 25
6 Potez 542
Groupe AÃ©rien Mixte 595
7 Potez 25
Groupe AÃ©rien Mixte 596
6 Potez 25
Tourane/Da Nang [Annam]
8 Loire 130 + 4 CAMS 37 & 55
Please note that the French Escadrille actually corresponds to the word Flight. Escuadron, or Squadron, was used for army units. The Groupe is the equivalent of a traditional air squadron. The French system allowed the mixing-and-matching of units within a squadron, whereas usually a squadron is all one type of aircraft.
Commandement des Bases du Sud – Southern Bases Command (Indochina)
Groupe AÃ©rien Mixte – Composite Squadron (usually Fighter / Reconnaissance)
E.R. ââ‚¬” Escardrille Reconnaissance
E.O. ââ‚¬” Escadrille Observation
E.B. ââ‚¬” Escadrille Bombardement
The 5th Bn The Gloucestershire Regt. had mobilized 1st Sept. 1939 and sailed for France on 14th January 1940. After a halt at Caudebec, near Havre, they were billetted at Thumeries. In very cold, snowy conditions they helped with preparing anti-tank obstacles and undertook training. In the spring they moved into the front line, taking over a sector in the Saar front, beyond the Maginot Line. During a patrol in the Grossenwald-Grindorff-Bizing area they had their first engagement with the Germans. End of April they were billetted at Auby. 13th May moved to Waterloo, near Brussels.
by Michael Shephard
(Back Badge 1950)
Grindorff was, and far as I know is, a tattered village on the edge of that tattered frontier between Alsace and Germany; from the tower of its church you can see well into Germany.
In March 1940 the 5th Glosters entered the line and awaited the onslaught of the enemy with trepidation. I was in command of No. 12 Platoon, “C” Coy., at that time commanded by Charlie Norris. We were positioned in the village with another platoon on our left some 100 yards away and staggered back by 100 yards, and on our right by a platoon of another company, also lying behind us in woodland. A sudden blitz raid was made against a platoon of “D” Coy. commanded by Tom Carter. This was held and repulsed, although we lost men as prisoners and casualties. We only heard about this action, but were ourselves involved in another:
On the morning of 3rd March I was ordered to report to Company HQ at Bizing, which lay about three quarters of a mile from Grindorff down a very straight road. Charlie Norris told me that I was to take a patrol out that evening and lie up, listening for any enemy patrol movement across the stream that cut our No Man’s Land in two. I was to take a section with me and this would be made up by a section recruited from HQ under the command of CSM Clifford. Cap comforters were worn, faces were blackened, genades fastened to web belts by the hand levers, and ammunition was readily available. For the trip through the deserted streets we were escorted by another section which formed the normal evening stand-to patrol.
At 2100 hrs I led my 7 men (country me from Tewkesbury and Winchcombe) away from the main lower street of the village and down through a cottage garden and crossed a wire fence. It was about 5 minutes after this that the enemy, about 30 strong, opened fire on my platoon position back at Grindorff. We were moving steadily along the old French wire when we heard the firing behind us. We carried on our patrol for about 15 minutes until enemy snipers began to make things difficult. We found a hollow and used that as cover, lying in a circle, keeping an all-round outlook.
By 2145 hrs the battle was going strong up at the platoon positions. We had watched about 150 of the enemy move up the wire. The enemy were attacking in front of the Platoon HQ when the Bren gunner covering the position, Pte Bailiss, was wounded by a Schmeizer and hand grenade. He was carried back just as the enemy came through the wire and the Bren gun slipped and Pte Bailiss fell. It was then that Sergt. Bill Adlam moved out in full view of the enemy and, under fire, recovered the gun, firing it and beating off the German assault. For this he received the Military Medal – the first TA soldier of the war to get this award.
About 2300 hrs Pte Bidgood, one of my patrol, was wounded and seemed in a bad state. I decided to get him back and moved the patrol up to the village. We moved steadily, carrying Pte Bidgood in the rear, but I realised that our own troops would be ready to fire on anything that moved in the street. I decided to hail the post and shout “Blackbird coming back wounded.” (From the old marching song, “Where be that backbird be?”) At 2330 hrs we entered the post, but as we did furious firing broke out again. Sergt. Adlam came out from the sandbags and helped us home. By 2345 that attack was so strong on our left flank that I put up the machine gun SOS of three greens. What a glorious sound that sustained staccato fire was; it broke up the enemy attack very swiftly. For half an hour there was a welcome lull.
At 0100 hrs the next attack came with a sudden shock, on our right and behind us. Above the row I could hear Sergt. Walker swearing in the good old Tewkesbury tongue at the Boche. 0120 French 75’s put down 30 shells, but the attack continued. At 0130 a German dropped a grenade through the window of Platoon HQ. No one was hurt as we were all on the floor. The attack continued until 0300 hrs. Another burst of French artillery brought the fighting to an end. At about 0440 hrs the third attack began, on our right and behind us.
Ammunition was running low but at 0530 the Carriers arrived, Gavin Scott leading 20 men with 7 Bren guns. After they opened up on the enemy, the Boche left the village for good.
The 5th Glosters at Ledringhem
by Major F.W. Priestley (Adjutant, 5th Bn. 1940)
(Back Badge 1946)
After the strenuous march back from near Brussels and the sharp engagement on the River Escault, at Bruyelle, the 5th Glosters were ordered to withdraw on the 22nd May 1940, to Aix. On the following day a further move was carried out to Nomain. Then followed a long march over congested roads to Herlies, some 10 miles south-west of Lille. From here on the 25th, after a meal but very little rest, the Battalion bussed by different routes to Oost Capelle.
The 25th May was a day of air combats and signs of trouble could even be seen in the Dunkirk direction. After a short rest the Battalion moved off at 1600 hrs to take up positions defending Wormhoudt. The town, till then, had been untouched by bombing and evacuation of its inhabitants had only just commenced. Orders were issued in the early afternoon of the 26th May for the 5th Glosters to move forward and hold outpost positions at Ledringhem and Arneke, some 3 and 5 miles from Wormhoudt. Preceeded by the Carrier Platoon, the Battalion, less “A” and “D” Companies, moved cautiously into Ledringhem without meeting any signs of opposition and were in the village soon after 1700 hrs. The carriers then moved forward to Arneke preparatory to “A” and “D” Comapanies occupying the village, again without opposition. Orders had also been received for 1 platoon, with 1 platoon MG of 4th Cheshires, to be detached to form a road block with a section of anti-tank guns at Rietveld in the rear (east) of Ledringhem on the road Wormhoudt-Cassel. The platoon was provided by “C” Coy. and took no part in the fighting at Ledringhem; joining at Brigade HQ when the Battalion was isolated at Ledringhem and rejoining the Battalion later on.
The forward southern position at Arneke was held by “D” Coy. under Capt. E. Rockett, with three 25mm anti-tank guns of the Battalion under 2nd Lieut. Goscomb. No. 11 Platoon, under 2nd Lt. Henn, was on the railway line some way north of the village.
“A” Coy. with Major D.W. Biddle in command, held the centre and northern part of the village on either side of the railway.
“C” Coy. under Capt. H. Mason, less the platoon under 2nd Lieut. Liversidge at Rietveld, was disposed to cover the road junctions between Arneke and Ledringhem.
Battalion HQ was established in the Ledringhem Mairie, in the centre of this one street village.
“B” Coy. under Capt. C. Norris was given the task of defending the north end of the village and the east flank.
HQ Company under Major A. Waller, disposed sections on the west of and close to Battalion HQ, and also south of Ledringhem.
Battalion transport, such as was necessary for the battle, was dispersed in an orchard on the east side of the village, where, although well camouflaged, it suffered destruction by enemy mortar fire as soon as the battle started. The remaining transport was located near Wormhoudt. The Battalion was given the support of an artillery regiment, whose FOO was present throughout, and which did considerable damage to enemy AFV’s and discouraged all enemy concentrations in the neighbourhood. A section of 2-pdr guns of the 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment came up during the evening and were disposed at Arneke. One additional MG Platoon came forward later in the battle and was sited with “C” Company.
The first night was comparatively peaceful. Little was seen of the French, thought to be withdrawing from around St. Omer. Very odd civilians were brought in, interrogated, and locked up, and it was not discovered till afterwards that these were wandering lunatics. The morning of the 27th May, which was fine and warm, brought a detachment of Royal Engineers sent to fix road blocks of iron rails let into the road by camouflet and these proved most efficient. Good progress was made in making earthworks and strenghtening defensive positions in buildings.
First news of the enemy came from “A” and “D” Coys at Arneke who observed AFVs to the east and south. These were the leading elements of the German forces, which, having broken through the French, were now wheeling north to cut off Dunkirk. During the afternoon tanks and embussed infantry were observed out of rifle range and apparently avoiding the villages. An enemy reconnaissance plane was continually overhead and then followed bursts of mortar fire on both villages. The CO decided to send forward a carrier section, and this under Sergt. L.E. Brown, who was later awarded the MM, did valuable work in ambushing parties of the enemy who were now making a determined attack on Arneke from various directions. A large concentration of the enemy was successfully dealt with by Lieut. D.L. Norris with his platoon of “D” Coy. Lieut. Norris was wounded the following day and had to be left as a prisoner of war. This very gallant officer died when in captivity (24th August 1942).
The fighting spread into the village and a burst of machine gun fire wounded Major Biddle, Capt. Rockett, and CSM Hill of “A” Coy.
At Ledringhem the attack was confined to mortar fire and so the remaining sections of the Carrier Platoon, under Lieut. N.W.H. Shephard, were ordered forward to Arneke to prevent an organised attack on the village from the south and north flanks. This they were able to do. The carriers also brought up fresh supplies of ammunition. The enemy withdrew from the village, and then followed a lull in fighting, enabling wounded men to be evacuated well before dark. For comparatively few casualties at Arneke, the enemy had lost during the day, 5 tanks, 5 armoured cars, and a considerable number of personnel.
It was now decided to concentrate the Arneke garrison at the north end of the village. “A” and “D” Companies were, however, brought back to the “C” Coy. area just south of Ledringhem under cover of darkness as there was a possibility of Arneke being cut off. The night was quiet, enemy patrols keeping off, and 0400 hrs 28th May, our artillery opened up on a pre-arranged plan. This fire was kept up most of the morning. Cassel, on the Battalion south-east flank, was seen to be undergoing air bombardment and an enemy aircraft of the Henschel type was seen delivering ammunition in the field south of Arneke. During the morning the QM (Major Vigrass) succeeded in delivering rations, but this was the last occassion, and he and his staff remained at Battalion HQ.
“A” Coy. (now under Capt. Scott), and “D” Coy. under Lieut. C. Norris, together with “C” Coy. were withdrawn in the afternoon from south of Ledringhem to positions forming an all-round defence of the village, orders having been received to hold the present positions for another 24 hours. It was impossible to contact No. 11 Platoon “D” Coy. who had been isolated on the railway line and who eventually returned via Wormhoudt, before rejoing the Battalion at Rexpoede.
During the day the enemy worked around the flanks of Ledringhem, only engaging the village with mortar and some sniping. Telephone communications with Brigade were finally severed by midday, and a despatch rider who made 5 trips during the day to Brigade HQ had come under fire on 4 occassions (Pte A.W. Joines, the D.R. received the MM for his devotion to duty). It was pretty evident that the village was surrounded.
Very soon afterwards the attack started seriously. Short and sharp bombardment by mortars would follow air-burst artillery over the village. The enemy were seen concentrating on both flanks near the church. No direct approach was made before dusk. As the first serious attack was developing 2 NCOs of “C” Coy. came into Battalion HQ with a message from Brigade to the effect that the Battalion was to withdraw if, and when, it could disengage, and proceed to Bambecque via Herzeele. L/Cpls. J.E. Barnfield and R.L.E. Mayo, who were part of the “C” Coy. platoon withdrawn to Brigade HQ at Rietveld, had volunteered to take this message and had taken 4 hours to complete 3 miles. They were both awarded the MM for their brave and timely action, without which the Battalion would have stood fast and would have been eventually overrun. It was now becoming very difficult to link up with the various company HQ’s and section posts. This was done by runner during the lulls in bombardments. Two observers in the church tower had been killed by snipers and it was difficult to discover from which flank the enemy was likely to develop his attack.
Counter sniping was taking place from possible upper windows, in which the CO joined at Battalion HQ. Armour piercing bullets came through the walls without doing much damage, but the gaping circles made in many places by shell-fire did not add to any feeling of security in buildings which had to be occupied. By now all carriers and anti-tank guns had been put out of action, most of the crews bing casualties. The artillery continued to give good support, but with darnkess coming on it was difficult to select suitable targets with the enemy in such close proximity.
The plan of withdrawal was based on a timed thinning out from all positions, a concentration in the orchard where the MT had been parked, and a stealthy creeping away by the fields and hedges remote from the road. Zero hour for the head of the colum to leave had been fixed at 2115 hrs.
During the evening the enemy continued short periods of mortar and machine gun fire, followed by an infantry rush from the south end near the church. Two such attacks developed after dark, necessitating the cancelling of zero hour. Unfortunately the cancellation did not reach “C” Coy. at the church and the greater part of them, under Capt. Welford, withdrew as ordered. Missing the turning for the field they passed on through the village and the majority, including Capt. Welford, were captured.
The enemy entered the church yard and tried to get down the village street; this was stopped by heavy Bren-gun fire, but he did established himself in the end houses. They were evicted by a counter-attack with bayonets, led by Capt. C. Norris, Lieut. Dewsnap, the IO, and Lieut. D. Norris, all of whom were wounded and eventually left behind.
During a second attack, the enemy produced a flame-thrower, the fuel of which did not ignite. He was disposed of, but not before much of this unpleasant oil had coated the defenders making it almost impossible for them to hold their weapons and giving rise to a temporary alarm of gas, so pungent was the oil. The withdrawal plan was set at 0001 hrs 29th May. The artillery support was now over and the FOO joined the withdrawal. Major Waller, HQ Coy. successfully led a sally to clear the churchyard. He had gone with the CO to investigate an enemy patrol at the back of the Mairie where Battalion HQ was sited. Both officers were wounded by tommy-gun fire and Major Waller was hit in the head. He died before the Battalion left the village. Colonel G. Buxton was wounded in the leg. Throughout the day Capt. Flowers (the Medical Officer) had worked valiently to collect and assist the wounded under almost impossible conditions. 2nd Lieuts. Shephard, Goscomb, and Owen had been slightly wounded but were also able to accompany the Battalion withdrawal.
This, fortunately, coincided with a lull in fighting. Two medical orderlies were left behind with the 3 wounded officers and the men in the school who were too severely injured to move. The remainder of the Battalion moved off. Smoke from burning buildings in the village helped cover movements. Complete silence was enjoyed and the Battalion left the orchard at 0015 hrs. The Battalion column was single file and fairly lengthy. Capt. L. Hauting (Adjutant) kept the column on the right route. A party of sleeping Germans was discovered and taken prisoner, together with their officer. The column reached Herzeele by 0530 hrs, which proved to be unoccupied. After a short pause they continued to Bambecque which was reached at 0630 hrs. Here the 8th Worcesters were in position and the tired Battalion were able to have a complete rest and food.
The Adjutant of the Worcesters wrote: “During the early-morning stand-to I saw a wonderful sight. Round the corner as I came out of Battalion HQ appeared the survivors of the 5th Gloucesters. They were dirty and haggard, but unbeaten. Their eyes were sunken and red from lack of sleep, and their feet as they marched seemed to me no more than an inch from the ground. At their head limped a few prisoners…. I ran towards Colonel Buxton, who was staggering along, obviously wounded. I took Colonel Buxton indoors….assuring him again and again that his men were all right.”
The Battalion embussed later that morning and taken to Rexpoede, commanded by Capt. Mason and the Adjutant. All the wounded were evacuated, prisoners handed over, and the remaining 13 officers and 130 men were soon on their way to the coast for evacuation. The move to the coast commenced after midnight on 30th May. It was the last, and most weary trek. All along the route were abandoned vehicles, many of which had been set on fire by their drivers. French equipment and loose artillery horses were eveywhere.
The beaches were reached close to Bray Dunes at about 0430 hrs, when contact was made with Major F.W. Priestley, who with RSM and 30 men of Battalion HQ and HQ Company, had missed the Battalion at Rexpoede. During the day evacuation was commenced by wading out to small boats for conveyance to ships. The last party embarked consisted of Major Priestly, Capt. Mason, Berenger (the French Agent de Liaison), CSM Wilcox, and 10 men, who were picked up at about 0400 hrs 31st May and taken to the paddle steamer ‘Glen Avon’ which was moving off for Harwich.
The Battalion eventually concentrated at Kingstone, Herefordshire, a total of some 400 all ranks. 2 officers and 83 men were killed.
November 1941, the 5th Glosters were converted into the 43rd Reconnaisance Regiment.
Awards for France 1940:
T/Capt. N.W.H. Shepherd – 5th Bn – 20 August 1940 – France
Sergt. W.G.H. Adlam – 5th Bn – 4 June 1940 – France 1940
Pte J.E. Barnfield – 5th Bn – 20 August 1940 – France 1940
Pte P. Morris – 20 August 1940 – France 1940
Pte A.W. Joines – 5th Bn – 3 Sept. 1940 – France 1940
L/Cpl. R.L.E. Mayo – 5th Bn – 3 Feb. 1944 – France 1940
Sergt. L.E. Brown – 5th Bn – 25 Oct. 1945 – France 1940
Lieut-Col. G.A.H. Buxton – 5th Bn – 20 Dec. 1940 – France
T/Lieut-Col. F.W. Priestley – 5th Bn – 20 Dec. 1940 – France
Capt. P.P.L. Owen – 5th Bn – 20 Dec. 1940 – France
A/Capt. L.C. Hauting – 5th Bn – 20 Dec. 1940
2nd Lieut. L.C. Jenkins – 5th Bn – 20 Dec. 1940
The Battle of France:
10 May-25 June 1940
The French faced the German invasion with 4360 modern combat aircraft and with 790 new machines arriving from French and American factories each month. However, the air force was not organized for battle. The regular air force had only half again as many units as during its peacetime nadir in 1932. As the battle opened, 119 of 210 squadrons were ready for action on the decisive northeastern front. The others were reequipping or stationed in the colonies. The 119 squadrons could bring into action only one-fourth of the aircraft available. These circumstances put the Allied air forces in a position of severe numerical inferiority vis-Ã -vis the Luftwaffe. (See Table II.) Qualitatively, however, the French pilots and aircraft proved to be more effective than their adversaries.
Table II. Modern Combat Aircraft Deployed on the Western Front, 10 May 194022
Type French /British Belgian and Dutch /Combined /German
Fighters 583 /197 /780 /1264
Bombers 84 /192 /276 /1504
and Observation 458 /96 /554 /502
Totals 1125 /485 /1610 /3270
The fighter units on the northeastern front were equipped exclusively with machines built within the preceding eighteen months. The American-made Curtiss 75A fighter joined French squadrons beginning in March 1939. It was the most effective type in its class in combat over France until the Dewoitine D520 became operational in mid-May 1940. Eight squadrons equipped with the Curtiss 75A shot down 220 German aircraft (confirmed kills), losing only thirty-three pilots. In seven aerial battles in which the Curtiss fighters were engaged with Messerschmitts, the total score was twenty-seven Bf 109Es and six Bf 110Cs destroyed for three of the French aircraft.23
The Morane-Saulnier MS 406 equipped eighteen squadrons in France on 10 May 1940. The kill-loss ratio for units flying the MS 406 was 191 to 89. The shortcomings of the Morane fighter compared to the Bf 109E have been the topic of many memoirs, but in the reported battles in which Messerschmitts faced Moranes alone, the French posted a record of thirty-one kills and five losses. Both the Morane and the Messerschmitt were designed to met specifications issued in 1934, prototypes flew in 1935, and quantity production began in 1938. The Messerschmitt design was better suited for evolutionary development, and the Bf 109E-3 model of December 1939 was superior to the Morane. (See Table III.) During the Battle of France, the air staff converted twelve squadrons equipped with Moranes to other types as rapidly as training facilities permitted. This policy marginally increased the efficiency of the individual units, but it acted to decrease the effectiveness of the fighter force as a whole by taking combat-experienced squadrons out of the line at a critical time. Further, it failed to capitalize on new production to increase the size of the fighter force.
Table III. Comparative Characteristics of Fighter Aircraft in the Battle of France25
Country Type; Horse-power Speed (mph) at Best Altitude (ft) Service Ceiling (ft) Armament
France Curtiss 75A-3; 1200 /311 at 10,000 /33,700 /six 7.5-mm
France Dewoitine 520; 910 /329 at 19,685 /36,090 /one 20-mm four 7.5-mm
France Morane 406; 860 /302 at 16,400 /30,840 /one 20-mm two 7.5-mm
France Bloch 152; 1100 /320 at 13,120 /32,800 /two 20-mm two 7.5-mm
England Hawker Hurricane I; 1030 /324 at 16,250 /34,200 eight 7.7-mm
Germany Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3; 1175 /348 at 14,560 /34,450 /two 20-mm two 7.9-mm
Another fighter designed to meet the same specification as the MS 406 was the Bloch MB 150. Though it lost out in the procurement competition to the Morane, the Bloch firm developed the basic design around a more powerful engine. The resulting Bloch MB 152 was faster and more powerfully armed than the MS 406. Twelve squadrons had Bloch fighters on 10 May 1940, and six more became operational with them during the battle. Units while equipped with Blochs shot down 156 German planes and lost 59 pilots.24
The first two squadrons equipped with the fast and agile Dewoitine 520 entered the battle on 13 May; eight others completed conversion training and became operational before the armistice. Between them, they shot down 175 enemy aircraft for a loss of 44 aviators. Polish pilots manned two squadrons of Caudron C 714 fighters. The ultralight Caudron (3086 pounds, empty) was capable of 302 mph with a 450-horsepower engine. Becoming operational on 2 June, the Poles shot down seventeen German aircraft and lost five pilots before their unit was disbanded on 17 June.
The French fighter force had available to it during the battle more than 2900 modern aircraft. At no time did it have more than one-fifth of these deployed against the Germans. The operational rate of the fighter force was 0.9 sorties per aircraft per day at the height of the battle. (German fighter units flew up to four sorties per aircraft per day.) Yet in spite of committing only a minor portion of its resources at a low usage rate, the fighter force accounted for between 600 and 1000 of the 1439 German aircraft destroyed during the battle.
The bulk of the published commentary on the French bomber force has focused on the fact that eight squadrons of Amiot 143M twin-engine medium bombers remained in the French order of battle. Designed in 1931 and manufactured between 1935 and 1937, the Amiot 143M by 1940 had been left behind by the rapid evolution of aviation technology. Critics of the prewar regime and apologists for the air force have drawn attention to this aircraft to highlight the poor quality of the equipment with which the French Air Force had to fight. Operationally, units equipped with the Amiot 143 performed with distinction. The eight squadrons flew 551 night bombing sorties between 10 May and 16 June and lost only twelve aircraft. In addition, six of the squadrons furnished thirteen aircraft for one desperate daylight mission on 14 June against German bridges and vehicular traffic approaching Sedan. A strong fighter escort kept the loss to three Amiots.26
The French long-range, four-engine heavy bomber, the Farman 222, equipped four squadrons. These squadrons flew seventy-one night bombing missions, striking targets such as Munich, Cologne, and Koblenz. They lost only two aircraft.
Modern French day bombers included the 307mph LiorÃ© et Olivier LeO 451 (18 squadrons, 392 sorties, 98 losses), the 298-mph Amiot 354 (4 squadrons partially equipped, 48 losses), and the 304-mph Breguet 693 (10 squadrons, 484 sorties, 47 losses). The French machines were supplemented by shipments from America of the 288-mph Martin 167F (first of 8 squadrons into action 22 May, 385 sorties, 15 losses) and the 305-mph Douglas DB-7F (first of 6 squadrons into action 31 May, 69 sorties, 9 losses).
The effectiveness of the French bomber force was reduced by poor communications arrangements that made massing of bomber squadrons impossible and rendezvous with fighter-escort problematic. Attacking piecemeal, the two day-bomber wings operational on 10 May lost twenty-eight of their forty-two aircraft in the first week. RAF day-bomber units, operating in the same command/control/communications environment, lost 132 out of 192. Most of the surviving machines were in need of extensive repairs. Although new aircraft and units came into action, the low operational rate (.25 sorties per aircraft per day) of the bomber force degraded its ability to have a significant effect on the land battle.
French reconnaissance and observation units had the most powerful aircraft in these two categories in the world. The standard French strategic reconnaissance aircraft, the Bloch 174, was capable of 329 miles per hour and an altitude of 36,000 feet. First delivered to units in March 1940, the Bloch 174 was produced quickly enough to equip all of the strategic reconnaissance squadrons during the battle. The reconnaissance units obtained early, accurate, and detailed information on German concentrations and axes of advance. They continued to keep senior army headquarters informed, irrespective of weather and enemy opposition, throughout the battle. However, the tempo of activity in reconnaissance units was extraordinarily low–an average of one mission every three days for a squadron (.04 sorties per aircraft perday). At the peak of intensity–from 10 to 15 May–the most active squadron flew two missions per day.27
The observation branch, relegated to reserve status in 1936, was the stepchild of the air force. The air staff had no program to modernize its equipment–aircraft dating from 1925 to 1935. Guy La Chambre in June 1938 directed the air staff to reequip the observation squadrons. Pilots in operational units wanted an ultrafast singleseater for long-range reconnaissance and a light two-seater capable of landing on unimproved fields for short-range observation missions. The air staff, preoccupied with political issues and indifferent to the views of men on squadron duty, ordered the Potez 63.11, the fastest, heaviest, most complex observation plane in the world. With a top speed of 264 miles per hour, it was 40 miles per hour faster than its German counterpart (Henschel Hs 126 B) and 50 miles per hour faster than the British Lysander. With twelve machine guns, it was the most heavily armed machine in any air force. Too fast and heavy to land on improvised strips yet too slow to escape German fighters, it was an elegant and graceful coffin for its crews.
Observation squadrons trained and mobilized under the army commands they would support. Army corps commanders viewed their observation squadrons as their private air forces and often imposed unrealistic demands that led to heavy losses early in the war. The air force general staff made rules to protect observation aircraft that limited their utility–for example, they had to fly behind friendly artillery, no mission could exceed fifteen minutes, fighter escort was required, and only the most modern (Potez 63.1 1) aircraft could be used. Poor liaison between the army and air force, coupled with slow communications within the air force, led to many observation squadrons being kept on forward airfields until they were about to be overrun by German motorized units. As a result, more than half of the observation aircraft in units on 10 May were destroyed to prevent capture or simply abandoned by the end of the first week. When the front stabilized between 25 May and 5 June, the observation units performed effectively, but coordination between the air force and army was too threadbare to permit them to function in a war of movement.21
The ability of the air force to provide close combat support to the army had been fatally compromised by the aviators’ struggle for independence. Senior army officers were ignorant of the capabilities and limitations of aviation, and the air force had done almost nothing to develop a capability to attack battlefield targets. Army generals declined strikes on appropriate targets. They demanded support without being able to describe the nature or location of the target or the plan and timing of the friendly maneuver to be supported. The air force organized maximum efforts to support French armored counterattacks. On 14 May, British and French bombers flew 138 sorties and lost 51 planes in support of General Charles Huntziger’s counterattack at Sedan. He postponed the attack. The next day the air force mounted 175 sorties; the attack was canceled. The air force did its best to support Colonel Charles de Gaulle’s armored thrusts toward Montcornet on 16 and 17 May. Night fighters received day ground assault missions, and the remains of the bomber units were committed. But Colonel de Gaulle failed to tell the air force the time and direction of his movements. As a result, 68 bomber sorties went in before de Gaulle moved and were of no assistance to him. A major breakout south by the encircled Army Group 1 was planned for 21 May. The air force received orders to support the attack but had no information on the time, place, or direction.29 (The mission was canceled.)
The air force general staff, dedicated to the strategic bombing mission, had quietly ignored Guy La Chambre’s directive to prepare for the ground assault mission. La Chambre had forced the air staff to procure assault bombers in 1938, and the first aircraft arrived in units in October 1939. The instructional manual for assault bomber units did not appear until January 1940, and there never was a manual for the employment of fighters in the assault role. The air staff complied with the letter of ministerial and army demands for a ground assault capability but did not commit intellectual, developmental, or training resources to developing one.
With German armor overrunning France, the air force belatedly sought to improvise an antitank capability. More than 2300 of the 2900 French fighter planes and all of the 382 assault bombers available during the battle carried 20mm cannon capable of penetrating the topside armor of all of the German tanks. The air staff designated Fighter Group III/2 to carry out the first aerial antitank missions. Its MS 406 aircraft carried high-velocity, engine-mounted 20-mm guns, but no armor-piercing ammunition was available. On 23 and 24 May, the unit flew nine sorties, lost three aircraft, and destroyed no tanks. Two weeks later, several fighter units flew a total of forty-eight antitank sorties over a four-day period–again without armor-piercing shells. They lost ten aircraft and did inconsequential damage. Two attacks in mid-June cost an additional three aircraft without seriously damaging any tanks.30 The capability of the armament and the valor of the pilots were wasted because of the absence of intellectual and logistical preparation.
The story of the French Air Force is one of gallant and competent individual performances that made no perceptible difference in the outcome of the battle. A dozen years of political strife had unraveled the network of trust and confidence through which bravery and professional skill could have an effect. The army and the air force each fought its own battle, weakened by the lack of coordination. The air staff, with its eyes on Berlin, neglected the preparation of command/control/communications systems and thereby denied the French Air Force the ability to integrate the efforts of individual units. The air force was so bitterly alienated from the political leadership that it declined to expand its organization and thereby deprived France of the powerful air force that its industrial base had provided.
Could the French Air Force Have
Seized Command of the Air?
On 10 May 1940, the operational units of the French Air Force committed to the Western Front were heavily outnumbered. The low rate of operations in the French Air Force compared to that of the Germans increased by a factor of four the French inferiority in the air during the first month of the battle. By mid-June, however, the Luftwaffe was exhausted. It had lost 40 percent of its aircraft. Its flyers had been operating above hostile territory without navigational aids and with the certainty of capture in the event their aircraft were disabled. The air and ground crews were working from captured fields at the end of lengthening supply lines. The French, on the other hand, had conducted much less intensive flight operations, were able to recover the crews of disabled aircraft, were falling back on their logistical bases, and were bringing new units on line with brand new aircraft every day. By 15 June, the French and German air forces were at approximate parity with about 2400 aircraft each, but the French were operating from their own turf, and they had the support of the RAF. Mastery of the air was there for the seizing, but on 17 June the French air staff began to order its units to fly to North Africa. The justification put forth by the air staff was that the army was destroyed and could not protect the airfields.
An examination of which units were ordered to North Africa and which were left behind reveals much about the motivation behind the evacuation. The units flown to North Africa were those regular air force squadrons with the most modern and effective aircraft–all of the squadrons equipped with the Curtiss 75A (10), Dewoitine 520 (10), Amiot 354 (8), Bloch 174 (18), Farman 222 (4), Douglas DB-7 (8), and Martin 167 (10), plus most of those with the LiorÃ© et Olivier 451 (12 of 18). Those left behind included all of the air force reserve units–47 observation squadrons and 12 fighter squadrons–and all of the units closely connected with the army (the observation squadrons, the 10 assault bomber squadrons, and 7 night fighter squadrons converted to the ground assault role).31
The behavior of the leaders of the French Air Force before and during the Battle of France suggests that their primary purposes were to protect the regular air force against its domestic adversaries and to ensure its survival after the battle and the expected defeat. Refusing to expand the regular air force, spinning off the dangerous and unglamorous observation mission to the reserves, maintaining a low operational rate, declining to seize command of the air when the Luftwaffe was weak, and selecting only regular air force units and those unconnected with direct support of the army to send to North Africa constitute a coherent pattern. The senior aviators kept their service small, protected the cadres from severe danger, and kept most of the regular air force together out of the Germans’ reach. Such decisions suggest a preposterous misordering of priorities in a nation at war but do make psychological and institutional sense when one reflects on both the frustration the aviators had suffered in their struggle to achieve operational independence from the army and the cavalier and callous way in which parliamentary officials had played with their lives, careers, and values.
The relevance of the French experience for leaders of the United States Air Force lies in the fact that the institutional struggle for autonomy and the operational necessity for cooperation are permanent and uncongenial elements of every defense establishment. The U.S. Army Air Service (and Air Corps) endured as much destructive and capricious treatment by uniformed and civilian officials of the army and the navy during the interwar years as did the French Air Force.32 By facing the issue of institutional independence for aviation just after (rather than just before) a great war, American military leaders avoided an interservice confrontation on the battlefield. But the interservice struggle goes on: doctrinal divergence retains its potential to sabotage mutual support among the services in future wars. The French experience can be useful as a cautionary tale about the ease with which institutional loyalties can weaken a national defensive posture.
Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania
25th of May.1940
Von Rundstedt and his men refused to give up and they fought on to the bitter end; of the 180000 defenders only around 32000 managed to withdraw to Innsbruck, the French and Italians marched into the ruins of Bregenz on the 25th of May. 148000 German soldiers were dead, wounded or missing; French intelligence estimated that the seven Vulksstrum divisions that had participated in the battle had been destroyed; it was a major victory for the Axis and a national tragedy for Germany.
On the Western Front… The Belgian forces are driven out of Menin by attacks of units from Army Group B. The last pockets of resistance in Boulogne are eliminated. At 1700 hours Gort cancels the preparations he has been making to join Weygand’s offensive. Later in the day Wegand in turn cancels the whole scheme, blaming Gort for this decision. In fact the French forces on the Somme have not made any attacks, as has been claimed, and the French forces with the northern armies are in no condition to do so.
German infantry marching through a town in Belgium
Boulogne fell to the Germans. The Belgian armies, disorganized and short of supplies after 16 days of fighting, could not sustain further attacks, and Leopold III ordered them to capitulate.
Evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk begins.
Polish destroyer Blyskawica takes part in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk.
<span>Douglas Bader, a member of 222 Squadron, attempted to protect Allied forces leaving Dunkirk. </span>
We were all flying around up and down the coast near Dunkirk looking for enemy aircraft which seemed also to be milling around with no particular cohesion.
The sea from Dunkirk to Dover during these days of the evacuation looked like any coastal road in England on a bank holiday. It was solid with shipping. One felt one could walk across without getting one’s feet wet, or that’s what it looked like from the air.
There were naval escort vessels, sailing dinghies, rowing boats, paddle-steamers, indeed every floating device known in this country. They were all taking British soldiers from Dunkirk back home.
The oil-tanks just inside the harbour were ablaze, and you could identify Dunkirk from the Thames estuary by the huge pall of black smoke rising straight up in a windless sky.
Our ships were being bombed by enemy areoplanes up to about half-way across the Channel and the troops on the beaches were suffering the same attention.
There were also German aircraft inland strafing the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force fighting their way out to the port.
<span>General Harold Alexander served under General John Gort who gave him the task of planning the rear guard action that enabled the British Expeditionary Force to be evacuated from Dunkirk. </span>
At Charleville, on 24 May, when the B.E.F. was absolutely ripe for the plucking, Hitler informed his astonished generals that Britain was ‘indispensable’ to the world and that he had therefore resolved to respect her integrity and, if possible, ally himself with her. Perhaps a less fanciful explanation of Hitler’s attitude is supplied by Ribbentrop’s representative at the Fuhrer’s headquarters, who has left on record the comment: “Hitler personally intervened to allow the British to escape. He was convinced that to destroy their army would be to force them to fight to the bitter end.”
<span>On the military side the facts are clearer. On 23 May Field-Marshal von Rundstedt, commanding Army Group A, halted</span>
General Guderian’s XIX Army Corps when two of its panzer divisions were heading for Dunkirk, not twenty miles distant and with little or no opposition ahead. The British counter-attack at Arras on 21 May, though undertaken by no more than two mixed columns, each comprising a tank battalion, an infantry battalion, a field battery, an anti-tank battery, and a machine-gun company, had caused him some concern.
He therefore called the halt in order to “allow the situation to clarify itself and keep our forces concentrated”. The panzers had just reached the Channel, and the success of this British counterattack engendered the fear of a larger operation that would cut them off from their supporting infantry.
The next morning he received a visit from the Fuhrer, who confirmed the stop order. The panzers were not to be risked in a possibly flooded area but preserved for future operations-presumably against the French Army. On the other hand, the Luftwaffe’s ‘field of action’ was not to be restricted.
Actually, on the available evidence, there can be little doubt that it was at the particular instance of the Luftwaffe’s commander-in-chief, Field-Marshal Goering, that in the upshot the B.E.F. Was “left to the Luftwaffe”.
Guderian was to write, bitterly, of the first day of the evacuation, 26 May: “We watched the Luftwaffe attack. We saw also the armada of great and little ships, by means of which the British were evacuating their forces.” Guderian’s bitterness was shared by the whole of the German Army High Command.
<span>A British artillery officer produced an anonymous account of what it was like waiting on the beaches at Dunkirk on 30th May, 1940.</span>
The whole front was one long continuous line of blazing buildings, a high wall of fire, roaring and darting in tongues of flame, with the smoke pouring upwards and disappearing in the blackness of the sky above the roof-tops.
Along the promenade, in parties of fifty, the remnants of practically all the last regiments were wearily trudging along. There was no singing, and very little talk. Everyone was far too exhausted to waste breath. It was none too easy to keep contact with one’s friends in the darkness, and amid so many little masses of moving men, all looking very much alike. If you stopped for a few seconds to look behind, the chances were you attached yourself to some entirely different unit.
A group of dead and dying soldiers on the path in front of us quickened our desire to quit the promenade. Stepping over the bodies we marched down the slope on the dark beach. Dunkirk front was now a lurid study in red and black; flames, smoke, and the night itself all mingling together to compose a frightful panorama of death and destruction.
On the Western Front… The position of the Belgian army is becoming increasingly grave. It is clear that it is unable to stay in the fight for much longer. The British forces are beginning to fall back on Dunkirk and in the evening the order is issued to begin Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk. Admiral Ramsay, who commands the Royal Navy forces based at Dover, is appointed to command the operation. The scope of the operation is not made clear to the local French commanders at first and they feel, with some justice, that they are being abandoned.
British soldiers wade to waitng boats at Dunkirk
In Norway… The British cruiser Curlew is sunk by air attack off Harstad.
From London… General Dill becomes Chief of the British General Staff. His predecessor General Ironside takes over as Commander in Chief of Home Forces.
. Channel May 26, 1940
C class AA cruiser HMS Curlew sunk by air attack.
the 26th of May. 1940
A Desperate Counter Attack
The celebratory mood and high spirits in the French High Command were interrupted by the news of a powerful German thrust towards Schweinfurt on the 26th of May. 1940
General Weygand, who had recently assumed command of the 4th Army, mounted a determined defense. The Germans advanced initially due to the element of surprise, but the offensive ebbed out outside Coburg on the morning after.
on the 26th of May. 1940
With the German counter offensive an obvious fiasco the Emperor felt it was time to strike southeast and surround the German forces in the Austrian Alps, therefore he ordered de Gaulle to advance with the Grand Army. Air General Bouscat, famous among French Air Force officers as the ‘Tank Buster’, launched ferocious attacks on German forces around Salzburg on the 26th of May. 1940
on the 27th.May 1940
The French Air Force crippled German communications and struck vital artillery positions, it was obvious to the German commander General Schniewind that the situation was already hopeless, but Reich President Beck was adamant that he should continue the advance. This wasn’t possible and the Germans withdrew on the 27th.May 1940
On the Western Front… The German armor resumes its attacks, trying to cut off the British and French forces around Lille. A desperate defense enables most of them to get away to positions nearer the coast. There is also trouble nearer the coast where the Belgian resistance is becoming increasingly weak. In the Dunkirk evacuation only a little is achieved with less than 8000 men being landed in Britain.
Armor of the 7th Pz. Div.continues the attack toward Lille
In Norway… The Allied assault on Narvik gets under way. The attacking troops are led by the French General Bethouart. The town is taken after a brisk fight. When bad weather at the Bardufoss airfield grounds the Allied fighters, the attack is briefly held up because the ships providing bombardment support have to fight off the Stukas alone.
In Belgium… King Leopold agrees to the surrender of the Belgian army without consulting the other Allies or his government (now in Paris). The capitulation becomes effective at 1100 hours.
King Leopold on his way to surrender
On the Western Front… Before the Belgian capitulation becomes effective at 1100 hours, these is a desperately hurried redeployment of the British and French forces that prevents the Germans from reaching Nieuport, and from there the Dunkirk beaches. A corps of French 1st Army is holding out in Lille but they are now cut off from the main British and French forces in the evacuation area. The evacuation continues, with 17,800 men being brought off at the cost of one destroyer and several other vessels. There is fierce fighting around Cassel and Poperinghe where Rundstedt’s men again press forward.
28 May 1940,
King Leopold of Belgium agreed to capitulate: Belgium surrenders to Germany.
Allied capture Narvik, Norway and at 3 June evacuation from Narvik.
French General BÃ©thouart leads a force from Bjerkvik on Narvik, Norway.
Polish troops attack Narvik, Norway, from south of the village.
Allied troops complete taking Narvik, Norway.
The steamer “Mona’s Isle” is the first ship which arrived in Dunkirk and came under fire from coastal batteries and leaved with more than 100 dead on board
May 29, 1940
Admiralty W class destroyer Wakeful sunk by E-boat off Nieuport.
HMS Grenade sunk by aircraft off Dunkirk.
HMS Grafton sunk by E-boat off Dunkirk
29 May 1940,
Dunkirk is encircled by German artillery and fired by the Luftwaffe but the evacuation continues with French troops joining the theatre. Lost are the destroyers HMSS Wakeful, Grafton and Grenade. Even though the Germans had clear weather, the Stukas are less effective around Dunkirk than GÃÂ´ring had expected. Their ability to hit land convoys and static targets is not matched when faced wîth the armada of vessels going to and from the French coast. While more than 860 vessels are going on runs to and from the Dunkirk beaches, the German bombardment decreases and some units move back to prepare for action elsewhere in France.
27 May – 2 Blenheims lost from a total of 48 attempting to bomb German positions around Dunkirk.
27/28 May – 120 aircraft to a variety targets; 24 Hampdens attack oil refineries near Hamburg and Bremen, 36 Whitleys bomb railway yards in the Ruhr and 35 Wellingtons and 25 Hampdens attack communications behind German lines. No aircraft lost. First German fighter to be shot down by RAF claimed by tail gunner in 10 Sqn Whitley.
28 May – 48 Blenheims attack German positions near Dunkirk. 1 aircraft shot down.
28/29 May – 34 Wellingtons and 13 Whitleys again concentrate on German forces at Dunkirk. 1 Whitley lost.
29 May – 51 Blenheims continue raids on German troops. No losses.
French Armor 1940
<span>Char de combat moyen Renault D2
Weight : 20.5 ton
Dimensions:5.05 x 2.18 x 2.66 mt
Armor (max) : 40 mm
Range : 155 km
Speed (max – route) : 23 km/hr
Main gun : n.1 47mm gun
MG : n.2 7.5mm
Crew : 3
The “Char D”, developed at the end of the 1920s as an improvement of the light Renault N.C. tank, was, up to 1935, “The” French AFV.
Due to financial constraints, production was limited to 160 units of the lighter D1 version (1931), and to 50 units of the D2 version (1932). </span>
<span>Char B 1 bis
Weight : 31.5 ton
Dimensions:6.50 x 2.49 x 2.80 mt
Armor (max) : 60 mm
Range : 140 km
Speed (max – route) : 29 km/hr
Main guns : n.1 47mm gun + n.1 75mm howitzer
MG : n.2 7.5mm
Crew : 4
The heavy Char B1 bis, “la fortresse”, dated from the late 1920s and was intended to be the French Army’s main battle tank. It was considered an advanced vehicle : only the German 88mm anti-aircraft gun could penetrate its frontal armour, while its 47mm anti-tank gun, which armed a small one-man turret (the same APX turret mounted on the S35 and Char D tanks), was considered the best gun in its category.
Production was slow : by 1940 only 400 had been built (due to both complexity of the design and lack of mass production capacity). The B 1 bis’ potential was, however, wasted as they were committed to piecemeal battles and not concentrated as the German panzertruppen. </span>
Weight : 9.8 ton
Dimensions:4.00 x 1.85 x 2.10 mt
Armor (max) : 45 mm
Range : 138 km
Speed (max – route) : 19 km/hr
Main gun : n.1 37 mm
MG : n.1 7.5mm
Crew : 2
The R.35 was supposed to be the replacement for the light FT-17. By 1940 some 2,000 were manufactured, making it numerically the most important tank of the French Army. Technically advanced, fast and reliable, the R.35 was handicapped by two main factors : its poor main gun (a short-barrelled 37mm dating from 1918) and its two-man crew.
As well as the other French tanks, its action was penalized by the foolish strategy implemented by the French Headquarters</span>
Weight : 20.0 ton
Dimensions:5.30 x 2.12 x 2.62 mt
Armor (max) : 55 mm
Range : 230 km
Speed (max – route) : 40 km/hr
Main gun : n.1 47 mm
MG : n.1 7.5mm
Crew : 3
When first revealed in 1935 the SOMUA S35 was regarded by many as the finest tank in the world. It had a cast steel hull (the first of its kind) and a cast steel turret, mounting a 47 mm gun, and was fast. The S35 turret used an electrical drive system.
By 1940 about 430 tanks had been manufactured.
The S35 had, however, quite a few weaknesses : the cast upper hull bolted to the lower section (so that it split apart along the length of the vehicle if struck by an AP projectile), the one-man turret (which required the commander to load, aim and fire the gun, leaving short time for actual commanding), and the cast turret and hull (which produced a terrific “bell resonance” effect when the tank was simply hit even by MG shots).
After 1940 many S35 were used by the Germans, mainly for second-line duties.
Weight : 12.1 ton
Dimensions:4.22 x 1.95 x 2.15 mt
Armor (max) : 40 mm
Range : 120 km
Speed (max – route) : 36.5 km/hr
Main gun : n.1 37 mm
MG : n.1 7.5mm
Crew : 2
The Hotchkiss H39 was considered one of the better of the French tanks in 1940. Some 1100 units were manufactured prior to the German invasion of France.
The H39 features were similar to those of S35: reliable mechanics but of limited value as “battle beasts” (like all two-man tanks). After June 1940 the H39 began a second career with the German Army (including the Vichy French). From 1942, the H39 was gradually downgraded to second-line duties. </span>
By the end of WW1 France had produced nearly 4000 battle tanks (St. Chamond M16, Schneider M16 CA1, and the Renault FT17), more than double the amount produced by Britain (about 1300) and two hundred times the amount produced by Germany. At the start of WW2, France possessed one of the numerically strongest arrays of armored vehicles in the world. Some 5000 battle tanks were on hand, however, a good portion of this number was of WW1 vintage. According to French doctrine, the purpose of the tank was to provide support for the infantry. French tanks were organized into many small units and dispersed.
On May 10, 1940, there were almost 3500 battle tanks available to combat units located along the front facing Germany. Here is a breakdown in actual numbers. The remainder of France’s tank force were located in arsenals or in training schools.
Renault FT17 534
Renault R35/40 1035
Hotchkiss H35 398
Hotchkiss H39 790
FCM 36 90
Renault D2 75
& B1 bis 313
FCM 2C 6
Somua S35 243
French tanks were well armed, armored and automotively designed. After the Great war came a debate about the future of the tank in many nations.
This debate fell into basically 2 schools of thought. Was the tank an infantry support weapon or was it a new form of weapon? The end of WW1 left the question wide open. Tanks were not advanced enough to be much more than infantry support weapons when the war ended and advancing technology caused thought and tactics to fall into the realm of the military dreamer.
Tanks proponents and dreamers of what a future war would be like were usually ignored or abused in their home country while being admired by men in other nations. What would the next war be like? How will we make the next war bend to our dreams and planning? Old school officers are trained to be slow to accept change. They are taught to think things out carefully. After all, the military in every nation is the bulwark of national tradition.
Tradition resists change. This occurs everywhere. Wartime leaders rarely are successful in peace as peacetime leaders are rarely successful in war. The politics of life dictate that. In war, everyone loves a decisive, “line in the sand” leader as they bring stability and reduce fear. In peace, people find this kind of person inflexible. A great example is Winston Churchill, loved in war, tossed out of office 3 weeks after VE day.
<span>Char B1 bis</span>
The fall of France in 1940 came from some rather simple reasons.
The first was motivation and leadership – German troops were simply more motivated and better lead. The second was tactics – some nations got the idea of tank warfare right (Germany) and others got it wrong (France).
Those nations that followed the French system of tank deployment quickly learned to change tactics after the fall of Poland and France. Anyone who employed the French system can give thanks that Germany did not practice on them first.
However, it should be noted that the German Blitzkrieg, though excellent in 1939, was a defective plan by 1942. The next logical step was the “all arms” approach practiced today. Massing tanks like Germany did would simply not work today any better than the French penny packet infantry support idea worked in 1939.
Both systems were absolutely correct – when you add them together – you get “all arms”. You can see this in 1944 after the allies invaded France. The allies did not possess better tanks or guns, but they did, by then, use an all arms approach.
<span>Hotchkiss H39 </span>
The Germans did not have more or better of anything in the form of equipment when they invaded France in 1940. France fell to the two factors of leadership and motivation.
An excellent example of the same factors can been seen in the fall of Burma in 1942 to the Japanese. Another is the much maligned airplane – the Brewser Buffalo. In the hands of the British and Dutch in Burma, the plane was defeated at every encounter against the Japanese. This gave it a horrible reputation. HOWEVER in the hands of the Finns, it went on to become a plane of Aces! The American ace – Johnny Johnson – said it all when he said the difference between him and other not so successful pilots was that when he flew, it was with the thought of “I am going up to kill the enemy” others went up with the thought “I hope that I don’t get killed today”.
In conclusion, it is easy to pick on the defeated. We can point fingers all day at items like the lack of communications in the French army HQ, or the inferiority of French anti tank guns and the like. But, the French did not have military morons in charge. They loved their country and were prepared to die for France. They simply did not have the right formula – motivation and tactics. If they had these, Germany would have been halted, or even more, France would have truly invaded Germany when she had the chance.
<span>Panhard AMD-35 </span>
<span> Renault UE-31</span
On the Western Front… The German forces continue to press all round the contracting Dunkirk perimeter. By the end of the day most of the remaining British troops and a large proportion of the French are inside the final canal positions. The evacuation from Dunkirk and over the beaches goes on. The Luftwaffe increases the strength of its attacks despite the efforts of the RAF to give protection. A further 47,310 men are evacuated but 3 destroyers are sunk and 7 others damaged. At least 15 other vessels are sunk. The French are now beginning to allow their troops to be evacuated and have sent some ships to assist. Owing to the destroyer losses and the demand for them in other operations the Admiralty decides that the more modern types must be withdrawn.
Ships evacuating Allied troops from Dunkirk
In New Guinea… On Biak Island, as well as Arare on the mainland, the American beachheads are heavily attacked by Japanese forces. The Japanese garrison on Biak makes use of tanks to force the US 162nd Regiment back towards its landing zone.
In the North Atlantic… The American escort carrier Block Island
and a destroyer are sunk by U-549 before it is itself sunk.
The USS Block Island damaged and sinking
Over Germany… About 400 American bombers attack German synthetic fuel works and oil refineries at Polits and other locations. The damage caused sets back aircraft fuel production.
In Berlin… In a presentation to Hitler, Field Marshal Busch, commanding German Army Group Center on the Eastern Front, presents evidence of a major Soviet buildup along his lines. Hitler emphasizes the need to improve the defensive fortifications at Vitebsk, Polotsk, Rosh, Mogilev and Bobriusk and to defend the area at all costs.
In Italy… At Anzio, the British and American troops of the US 6th Corps take Campoleone and Carroceto. The Canadian 1st Corps begins to advance up Route 6 from Caprano toward Frosinone.
In Belgium… Belgian socialists call on King Leopold III to abdicate. The former government in exile and some Belgians hold the king in low regard because of his independent policies before the war and his unilateral decision to surrender to the Germans in 1940, without consulting the British and French who were assisting in the defense of Belgium.
In Norway… The Nobel prize winning author Knut Hamsun is arrested for collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation.
In Syria… French forces shell Damascus and Hama. Syrian gendarmes attack French military posts. Meanwhile, Syrian representatives ask the British for assistance.
In Tokyo… Admiral Ozawa replaces Admiral Toyoda as commander of the Combined Fleet.
Over Japan… American B-29 Superfortress bombers drop incendiaries on Yokohama, burning 85 percent of the port area
29th of May.1940
Field Marshal von Bock’s ten divisions were taking a merciless beating for three days, and when the Grand Army finally reached the German defenses on the roads towards the city they were all but wiped out. Salzburg fell to the practically unscathed columns of French armor 10:00 on the 29th of May.1940
29 May 1940,
Dunkirk is encircled by German artillery and fired by the Luftwaffe but the evacuation continues with French troops joining the theatre. Lost are the destroyers HMSS Wakeful, Grafton and Grenade. Even though the Germans had clear weather, the Stukas are less effective around Dunkirk than GÃÂ´ring had expected. Their ability to hit land convoys and static targets is not matched when faced wîth the armada of vessels going to and from the French coast. While more than 860 vessels are going on runs to and from the Dunkirk beaches, the German bombardment decreases and some units move back to prepare for action elsewhere in France
On the Western Front… There is something of a lull in the land battle around Dunkirk because of confusion and disagreement in the German command. The panzer forces begin to withdraw from the front line to take up positions to the south for the next stage of the battle of France. The evacuation, of course, continues with 53,823 men being taken off. The small ships over the beaches do most of the lifting but transfer their loads to larger vessels for the trip to England. One destroyer is sunk during the day, the French Bourrasque, three others are hit and at least nine of the smaller ships are also sunk. This total does not include the smallest vessels whose losses are also considerable. General Brooke, who has commanded the British 2nd Corps with distinction, is one of the evacuees.
Bourrasque strikes a mine and sinks during the evacuation
The Evacuation of Dunkirk continues.
<span>Dunkirk Harbour, oil tanks ablaze from German bombing.</span>
<span>A Lockheed Hudson low over the inferno of blazing oil tanks.</span>
On 10 May 1940 Hitlerââ‚¬™s armies struck westwards across Europe. Within three weeks Holland and Belgium had surrendered and German Panzer (tank) divisions had split the British and French armies.
<span>A call to surrender, dropped from the air.</span>
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and a substantial number of French troops were trapped in a diminishing pocket of land centred on the port of Dunkirk. On 25 May Boulogne was captured and on the following day Calais fell. That evening the Admiralty signalled the start of Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of the troops stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk.
Operation Dynamo was masterminded by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who had been given less than a week to prepare. From his headquarters in tunnels beneath Dover Castle, he directed and inspired a small staff who had the awesome task of planning the evacuation of up to 400,000 British and French troops under constant attack from German forces.
By 26 May Ramsay had assembled 15 passenger ferries at Dover and a further 20 at Southampton. These it was hoped would be able to embark troops direct from the quays at Dunkirk. To help in the evacuation and to provide escorts for the merchant ships Ramsay had a force of destroyers, corvettes, minesweepers and naval trawlers. These ships were augmented by cargo vessels, coasters and some 40 Dutch self-propelled barges
<span>DHM732AP. With the harbour under attack, HMS Express casts off having embarked troops of the British Expeditionary force (B.E.F.). Leaving with her are the trawlers, which were part of the small boat armada which played such a major part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. </span>
Minefields and shelling from German batteries on the French coast forced evacuation convoys to take longer routes to Dunkirk. The first convoy, after sustaining heavy air attacks, found the port of Dunkirk and its oil tanks ablaze and only the passenger ferries ââ‚¬ËœRoyal Daffodilââ‚¬™ and later the ââ‚¬ËœCanterburyââ‚¬™ succeeded in berthing. By the end of the first day only 7,500 troops had been rescued and it was clearly impossible to use the port. Captain Tennant, in charge of the naval shore party at Dunkirk, signalled for the rescue ships to be diverted to the beaches east of the town. But here shallow waters prevented the large ships getting within a mile of the shore and troops had to be ferried in smaller craft from the beaches to the ships. There was an alternative, a spindly concrete pier with a wooden walkway, never designed to have ships docking against it but it was found that it could be used. Differences in loading speeds were dramatic HMS ââ‚¬ËœSabreââ‚¬™ took 2 hours to load 100 troops from the beach, but from the pier it took only 35 minutes to board 500 troops.
<span>Human life line.</span>
<span>The 34 year old paddle steamer, ‘Emperor of India’ was there, her deck crowded with passengers in garb unfamiliar to her. </span>
<span>Not even standing room.</span>
In London the Admiraltyââ‚¬™s Small Vessels Pool had been collecting all available seaworthy pleasure craft. With volunteer crews, many of whom had never sailed out of sight of land before, they were checked at Sheerness Dockyard and then sent to Ramsgate to await final sailing orders. The pleasure craft were joined by lifeboats, trawlers, Thames sailing barges, tugs and other small craft. The first convoy of ââ‚¬Ëœlittle shipsââ‚¬™ sailed from Ramsgate at 10pm on 29 May and by the next day they were streaming across the Channel in seemingly unending lines. The dangers were great, ships, both large and small, were targets for German fighters, bombers, submarines and coastal batteries plus the random danger of mines. Fortunately, throughout the evacuation, the seas remained abnormally calm. Most of the small craft headed for the beaches to act as tenders, while some of the larger trawlers and drifters loaded troops directly in Dunkirk Harbour.
<span>Dunkirk in flames, a portent of ‘the dark time through which we passed…'</span>
Trek to the beaches through a blitz on the town.
On the evening of 2 June, with the German forces closing in, Ramsay despatched a large force of ships, including 13 passenger ships, 14 minesweepers and 11 destroyers. At 11:30 pm Captain Tennant sent the historic signal from Dunkirk ââ‚¬Å“BEF evacuated.ââ‚¬Â By now, the German forces were nearly in the outskirts of the town. Only one more night evacuation was possible. On the night of 3 June a final effort was made using British, French, Belgian and Dutch ships to bring out as many of the French rearguard as possible and over 26,000 were saved.
Between 26th May and 4th June 338,000 troops were rescued from Dunkirk, over 200,000 of them passing through Dover. During the nine day period the Southern Railway laid on a total of 327 special trains, which cleared 180,982 troops from Dover. 4,500 casualties were treated at the town’s Buckland Hospital and all but 50 of these seriously ill men were saved.
<span>The first chance a sleep.</span>
<span>These men were left.</span>
Churchill’s famous speech summed up the British spirit on the 4th June 1940:
“We shall outride the storms of war, and outlive the menace of tyranny.
That is the resolve of the Government; that is the will of parliament, and of the nation, and we shall not flag or fail.
We shall fight on the sea and the oceans,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets.
We shall fight on the hills.
“We shall never surrender”.
On the Western Front… This is the most successful day of the Dunkirk evacuation, with 68,014 men being taken to Britain. The ships lost include one destroyer and six more are damaged. General Gort returns to Britain after handing over command of the remnant of the BEF to General Alexander as ordered. There are considerable air battles over the beaches at various stages during the day in which the RAF claim to shoot down 38 German aircraft for the loss of 28. In fact the figures are nearer equality.
Small boat floatilla picking up soldiers from Dunkirk
In Norway… The British blocking force is evacuated from Bodo.
In Britain… A series of measures, including the removal of all direction signs from crossroads, is taken to counter worries about fifth-column and parachute attacks.
In Washington… President Roosevelt introduces a “billion-dollar defense program” which is designed to boost the United States military strength significantly.
1st June 1940,
Braubach, Marksburg Castle
He was feeling bored again and that was fascinating in a way. He had spent six long years in Landsberg prison but it didn’t take more than three weeks of good food and these excellent facilities to restore him physically and stir his natural impatience.
He was still a prisoner but the new ‘cell’ was quite the improvement, a spatial bedroom, a drawing room and a bathroom.
He was still wearing the same nondescript military fatigues but they were clean, he ran his right hand through his hair, I’ll have to ask them to start letting me out into the courtyard for some exercise he thought.
There was a polite knock on the door, which was then opened by a soldier who walked in and stood beside the door, another man, wearing a French General Officer’s uniform entered.
He was in his late forties with a square jaw, short black hair; his piercing green eyes projected quiet menace.
Göring rose and the man extended his hand smiling “Ah, General Göring, a pleasure to finally meet you, I’m General Mannfred von Habsburg, Aide-de-Camp to the Emperor.” They shook hands and he replied, “Thank you Sir the pleasure is all mine, would you please sit down?”
There was a flicker of amusement in the man’s eyes over Göring’s attempt to act as a host and thereby create a small psychological advantage.
The German sat down on one of the chairs at the large table in the drawing room while von Habsburg remained standing; two servants entered the room and brought in a splendid ‘General of the Luftwaffe’ uniform including hat, riding boots, gold threaded belt and what Göring recognized as his own sword, which had cost a fortune to make.
They also put a folder with documents on the table and then exited the room together with the soldier who closed the door. Von Habsburg walked over to the window and took in the view,
“I’m sure you find your new quarters satisfactory?” Göring raised an eyebrow, “Of course General, Landbsberg might not be the worst prison in the Reich, but I naturally prefer this.”
“Good, then let’s get down to business, as I’m sure you have realized, France is winning the war against Germany, it might take another six months to put down the last resistance but there is no doubt how this conflict will end. The Emperor has a plan for the future of central Europe, which of course includes Germany. As soon as certain territorial revisions have been made there are no further reasons for conflict between our two great nations and France will need a powerful and focused Germany at her side in the coming struggle against communism and possibly British Imperialism. That Germany will need a strong and determined leader, a leader who accepts the new order in Europe and takes responsibility for his people and brings Germany out of the darkness which the useless Ludwig Beck and his cohorts have plunged it into.”
“Are you saying what I think you are saying?”
Göring looked surprised.
“Yes I am. Our beloved Emperor has decided that you are the most suitable candidate for the position of leading a restructured Reich. He is most impressed by your exploits during the Great War and your performance throughout your party’s rise to power. Let me stress that we are interested in you as a person, there is no future for the National Socialist movement, which will become apparent to you very soon.”
“I would never betray my comrades…”
“Spare me your empty phrases Herr General; I’m only interested in a final yes or no when you have your options clear to you. If you decide to cooperate we will immediately let you begin creating an organization that can support your ascent to power when the war has been won.
This includes setting up a shadow cabinet with any men you find suitable, we will also allow you to set up a battalion of Luftwaffe troops from volunteers drawn from our German prisoners of war, to act as your personal and most trusted guard, something that will be essential during the first potentially shaky years of your reign. You will be most dependent on us of course, but we want to give you as much independence as possible.” Von Habsburg paused and sat down in front of Göring at the table.
“What’s the catch? Why should I become your puppet?” Göring was flustered.
“We expect you to be loyal to the Axis alliance and France; we do not expect you to be a puppet. There is a catch as you suspected, we need to tie your destiny to ours and at the same time remove your past loyalties. For that reason, your first act as Regent of Germany must be to order the elimination of all your party comrades; they are to be shot by your own Luftwaffe troops.”
Göring stared at von Habsburg in amazement. “Never! I will never betray the party and the Reich!”
Von Habsburg looked pityingly at the German. “Face it, your loyalty was to Adolf Hitler and he is dead and now when the Reich needs you the most, you are backing down? What will happen to the German people? Remember the years after the last war!”
“But…” Göring was faltering.
“Are you telling me you are choosing a life in prison over this”, von Habsburg rose and walked over and pointed to the Luftwaffe uniform. “It can all be yours again Hermann, remember the heady days in 1933? The feeling of power and destiny? Think about Emmy, you could have her in your arms within weeks! Your nation needs you man!”
Both men were quiet for several minutes and von Habsburg returned to the window, looking down on the small town of Braubach.
Finally Göring said, “How much territory will we have to give up.”
Von Habsburg turned slowly and walked over to the table and leafed through the documents in the folder on the table, he found what he was looking for and presented Göring with a map, who sighed when he saw the extent of the French demands, the only consolation where some former Polish provinces in the east. Von Habsburg produced another document and put it beside the map,
“This is the order my dear General, I’ll give you an hour to decide, if you choose wisely we can have a friendly dinner together and plan your future, otherwise I’ll arrange for your transfer to a proper prison tomorrow. The French General put a very expensive fountain pen on the document and left the room.
Göring looked at the document; it was the execution order of his former party comrades.
He rose and walked over to the uniform, it was beautiful; he carefully explored the golden rank insignias on the shoulder boards with his fingers. He thought about the ‘good old days’ and his party comrades and their hard struggle, but most of them were nothing but sycophants who’s only goal was to further their own desires, they cared nothing for the Reich or the Führer! Why should he care about them?
Didn’t Hitler tell him during their long private conversations that the party was nothing more than a propaganda vehicle so they could save the fatherland? Wasn’t this the chance to continue the great work, to make Germany strong again?
He put on the uniform jacket and admired the exquisite work; Paris’ best tailor must have made this he thought.
He walked over to the mirror and looked at himself…Emmy would be beaming at him now if she had been here.
He carefully put on all parts of the uniform and admired his image in the mirror; ten minutes passed.
He looked back to the paper, tormented by the inner struggle, he could see all of their faces clearly in his mind…but only as prisoners…weak…useless…prisoners…there was a reason the Emperor of France had chosen him! He had no equal in Germany! He stood motionless for a while and then walked over to the table and signed the document…
Allied Naval losses off Dunkirk in June,1st.1940
Six British and seven French destroyers lost during evacuations from France.
A force of 41 British destroyers under Vice Admiral Ramsay were used in the evacuation along with a large number of smaller ships.
June 1, 1940
B class destroyer HMS Basilisk sunk by aircraft off the coast of Dunkirk.
B class destroyer HMS Keith lost.
H class destroyer HMS Havant attacked by aircraft off Dunkirk.
Locust class river gunboat HMS Mosquito lost to aircraft off Dunkirk.
Halcyon class minesweeper HMS Skipjack lost to aircraft off Dunkirk.
By 3 June 1940, instead of the 45,000 originally hoped for, 328,000 Allied
Evacuation British troops evacuating to ship via lifeboat bridgeDue to war-time censorship and the desire to keep up the morale of the nation, the full extent of the unfolding “disaster” around Dunkirk was not publicised. However, the grave plight of the troops led King George VI to call for an unprecedented week of prayer. Throughout the country, people prayed on 26 May for a miraculous delivery. The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers “for our soldiers in dire peril in France”. Similar prayers were offered in synagogues and churches throughout Britain that day, confirming the public suspicion of the desperate plight of the troops. Initial plans called for the recovery of 30,000 men from the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) within two days, at which time it was expected that German troops would be able to block further evacuation. Only 25,000 men escaped during this period, including 7,000 on the first day. Ten additional destroyers joined the rescue effort on 26 May and attempted rescue operations in the early morning, but were unable to closely approach the beaches, although several thousand were rescued. However, the pace of evacuation from the shrinking Dunkirk pocket steadily increased. On 29 May 47,000 British troops were rescued in spite of the first heavy aerial attack by the Luftwaffe in the evening. The next day, an additional 54,000 men were embarked, including the first French soldiers. 68,000 men and the commander of the BEF—Lord Gort—evacuated on 31 May. A further 64,000 Allied soldiers departed on 1 June, before the increasing air attacks prevented further daylight evacuation. The British rearguard left the night of 2 June, along with 60,000 French soldiers. An additional 26,000 French troops were retrieved the following night before the operation finally ended. Two French divisions remained behind to protect the evacuation. Though they halted the German advance, they were soon captured. The remainder of the rearguard, largely French, surrendered on 3 June 1940. The next day, the BBC reported, “Major-General Harold Alexander [the commander of the rearguard] inspected the shores of Dunkirk from a motorboat this morning to make sure no-one was left behind before boarding the last ship back to Britain.” Date Troops evacuated from beaches Troops evacuated from Dunkirk Harbour Total 27 May – 7,669 7,669 28 May 5,930 11,874 17,804 29 May 13,752 33,558 47,310 30 May 29,512 24,311 53,823 31 May 22,942 45,072 68,014 1 June 17,348 47,081 64,429 2 June 6,695 19,561 26,256 3 June 1,870 24,876 26,746 4 June 622 25,553 26,175 Totals 98,780 239,446 338,226 Royal Navy gunner covering retreating troops at Dunkirk (1940) Little shipsMain article: Little ships of Dunkirk Most of the “little ships” were private fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, but commercial vessels also contributed, including a number from as far away as the Isle of Man and Glasgow. Guided by naval craft across the English Channel from the Thames Estuary and Dover, these smaller vessels were able to move in much closer to the beaches and acted as shuttles between the shore and the destroyers, lifting troops who were queuing in the water, some of whom stood shoulder-deep for many hours to board the larger vessels. Thousands of soldiers were also taken in the little ships back to Britain. Thirty-nine Dutch coasters—which had escaped the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans on 10 May—were asked by the Dutch shipping bureau in London to assist. The Dutch coasters—able to approach the beaches very closely due to their flat bottoms—saved 22,698 men for the loss of seven boats. Nineteen lifeboats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) sailed to Dunkirk. Those from the lifeboat stations at Ramsgate and Margate were taken directly to France with their usual volunteer crews, but the others sailed to Dover where they were requisitioned by the Royal Navy, which provided the crews. Some of the RNLI crews remained behind in Dover and set up a workshop to repair and fuel the little ships. One lifeboat—The Viscountess Wakefield—was lost after it was run onto the beach at Dunkirk. The Jane Holland was holed when a Motor Torpedo Boat rammed her and her engine failed after being machine gunned by an aircraft. She was abandoned but later found adrift, towed back to Dover and repaired. She returned to service on 5 April 1941. The lifeboats included: The Cyril and Lilian Bishop (RNLI official number 740); a 35 ft 6 in (10.82 m) self-righter from Hastings. Jane Holland; a 40 ft (12 m) self-righter from Eastbourne. The Michael Stevens (ON 838); a 46 ft (14 m) Watson class from Lowestoft. The Viscountess Wakefield (ON 783); a 41 ft (12 m) Watson class from Hythe, Kent. Thomas Kirk Wright (ON 811); a 32 ft (9.8 m) Surf class from Poole. Unnamed ON 826; a 35 ft 6 in (10.8 m) newly-built self-righter. She was repaired then entered service in 1941 at Cadgwith with the name Guide of Dunkirk. Mary Scott; then at Southwold, the Mary Scott was towed to Dunkirk by the paddle steamer Emporer of India together with two other small boats. Between them they took 160 men to their mother ship, they made a journey with fifty men to another transport vessel. She was abandoned on the beach, recovered and returned to service with the RNLI at Southwold. Dowager; launched 1933, as the Rosa Woodd and Phyllis Lunn. Based at Shoreham, she made 3 trips between Dover and Dunkirk. Stenoa; launched 1929, as Cecil and Lilian Philpott. Then at Newhaven, she saved 51 persons from the beach at Dunkirk. Then returned to RNLI service at Newhaven. However, not all those called upon to serve did so enthusiastically. Some life boat crews, and the Rye fishing fleet, were invited to participate, but declined to assist the operation.  Losses A beached French coastal patrol craft and a British Universal Carrier abandoned at Dunkirk hours after the evacuation Men and materielDespite the success of the operation, all the heavy equipment and vehicles had to be abandoned. Left behind in France were 2,472 guns, almost 65,000 vehicles and 20,000 motorcycles; also abandoned were 416,000 short tons (377,000 t) of stores, more than 75,000 short tons (68,000 t) of ammunition and 162,000 short tons (147,000 t) of fuel. 30,000–40,000 French troops were captured in the Dunkirk pocket.  Naval lossesSix British and three French destroyers were sunk, along with nine large boats. In addition, 19 destroyers were damaged. Over 200 of the Allied sea craft were sunk, with an equal number damaged. The Royal Navy’s most significant losses in the operation were six destroyers: Grafton, sunk by U-62 on 29 May; Grenade, sunk by air attack off the east pier at Dunkirk on 29 May; Wakeful, sunk by a torpedo from the E-boat S-30 on 29 May; Basilisk, Havant and Keith, sunk by air attack off the beaches on 1 June. The French Navy lost three destroyers: Bourrasque, mined off Nieuport on 30 May; Sirocco, sunk by the E-boats S-23 and S-26 on 31 May; Le Foudroyant, sunk by air attack off the beaches on 1 June.  Merchant navy lossesThe merchant navy also paid a heavy price during the evacuation. Numerous ships were sunk ranging from small pleasure craft to cross-channel ferries. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company despatched eight of its vessels, rescuing a total of 24,699 British troops – one in fourteen of those evacuated from Dunkirk. However, three of its ships were lost in one day, 29 May 1940. Mona’s Queen, mined off Dunkirk on 29 May; Fenella, sunk by air attack whilst berthed alongside the East Pier on 29 May; King Orry, sustained heavy damage following several air attacks on 29 May, and consequently sank off the beaches on 30 May.  Air lossesWinston Churchill revealed in his volumes on World War II that the Royal Air Force (RAF) played a most important role protecting the retreating troops from the Luftwaffe. Churchill also said that the sand on the beach softened the explosions from the German bombs. Between 26 May and 4 June, the RAF flew a total of 4,822 sorties over Dunkirk, losing just over 100 aircraft in the fighting. Fortunately for the BEF, bad weather kept the Luftwaffe grounded for much of operation thus helping to reduce the losses. The RAF claimed 262 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed over Dunkirk. The RAF lost 177 aircraft between 26 May and 3 June, while the Luftwaffe lost 240 aircraft from all causes during the same time frame in operations over France and Belgium. Fighter losses from units based in France and Britain from 10 May to 4 June were 432, while total RAF losses from all causes during all of May and June were 959, of which 477 were fighters. However, most of the dogfights took place far from the beaches and the retreating troops were only aware of being bombed and strafed by German planes that managed to elude or get through the protective cordon. As a result, many British soldiers bitterly accused the airmen of doing nothing to help. The Royal Navy claimed the destruction of 35 Luftwaffe aircraft from ships’ gunfire during the period from 27 May to 1 June, and damage to another 21 aircraft.  Aftermath Rescued British troops gathered in a ship at Dunkirk Dunkirk-rescued French troops disembarking at a port on the south coast of England A wounded French soldier being taken ashore on a stretcher at Dover after his evacuation from DunkirkBefore the operation was completed, the prognosis had been gloomy, with Winston Churchill warning the House of Commons to expect “hard and heavy tidings”. Subsequently, Churchill referred to the outcome as a “miracle”, and the British press presented the evacuation as a “disaster turned to triumph” so successfully that Churchill had to remind the country, in a speech to the House of Commons on 4 June, that “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” Nevertheless, exhortations to the “Dunkirk spirit”, a phrase used to describe the tendency of the British public to pull together and overcome times of adversity, are still heard in Britain today. The rescue of the British troops at Dunkirk provided a psychological boost to British morale; to the country at large it was spun as a major victory. While the British Army had lost a great deal of its equipment and vehicles in France, it still had most of its soldiers and was able to assign them to the defence of Britain. Once the threat of invasion receded, they were transferred overseas to the Middle East and other theatres and also provided the nucleus of the army that returned to France in 1944.  German mistakesGerman land forces might have pressed their attack on the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the Allies, especially having secured the ports of Calais and Boulogne. For years, it was assumed that Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to stop the attack, favouring bombardment by the Luftwaffe. However, according to the Official War Diary of Army Group A, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt – the Chief of the General Staff, disconcerted by the vulnerability of his flanks and supply to his forward troops, ordered the halt. Hitler merely validated the order several hours after the fact. Hitler had been urged by Göring to let the Luftwaffe finish the British off, much to the consternation of OKH Chief of Staff, General Halder, who noted in his diary that the airforce was dependent upon the weather. This lull in the action provided the Allies a few days to evacuate by sea. Von Rundstedt had ordered the halt on 23 May, confirmed by Hitler on 24 May at 11:30 am. On 26 May, at 1:30 pm Hitler ordered the German armour to continue the advance, but the delay had allowed the construction of defences vital for the following week’s evacuation. Several high-ranking German commanders—for example, Generals Erich von Manstein and Heinz Guderian, as well as Admiral Karl Dönitz—considered the failure of the OKW (German High Command) to order a timely assault on Dunkirk to eliminate the BEF to be one of the major mistakes the Germans had made on the Western Front in WWII.  Fate of the French soldiersMore than 100,000 evacuated French troops were quickly and efficiently shuttled to camps in various parts of southwestern England where they were temporarily lodged before quickly being repatriated. British ships ferried French troops to Brest, Cherbourg and other ports in Normandy and Brittany, although only about one half of the repatriated troops were deployed against the Germans before the armistice. For many French soldiers, the Dunkirk evacuation was not a salvation, but represented only a few weeks’ delay before being made POWs by the German army after their return to France. Of the French soldiers evacuated from France in July 1940, only about 3,000 chose to continue the struggle, joining Charles de Gaulle’s Free French army in London. By the end of the year, De Gaulle commanded just 7,000 Free French soldiers, despite the large number ferried to England during Operation Dynamo. In France, the unilateral British decision to evacuate through Dunkirk (rather than counterattack to the south), and the perceived preference of the Royal Navy for evacuating British forces at the expense of the French led to some bitter resentment. According to Churchill, the French Admiral François Darlan originally ordered that the British forces should receive preference, but he intervened at a 31 May meeting in Paris to order that the evacuation should proceed on equal terms and the British would form the rearguard. In fact, the 35,000 soldiers who finally surrendered after protecting the BEF retreat were essentially French. Their desperate resistance allowed to extend the evacuation effort to the 4 June, bringing on that day another 26,175 Frenchmen to Britain.  British POWsFor every seven soldiers who escaped through Dunkirk, one man was left behind as a prisoner of war (POW). The majority of these prisoners were sent on forced marches into Germany. Prisoners reported brutal treatment by their guards, including beatings, starvation, and murder (see also War crimes of the Wehrmacht). In particular, the British prisoners complained that French prisoners were given preferential treatment. Another major complaint was that German guards kicked over buckets of water that had been left at the roadside by French civilians. Many of the prisoners were marched to the town of Trier, with the march taking as long as 20 days. Others were marched to the river Scheldt and were sent by barge to the Ruhr. The prisoners were then sent by rail to POW camps in Germany. The majority (those below the rank of corporal) then worked in German industry and agriculture for five years.  LegacyThe St George’s Cross defaced with the arms of Dunkirk flown from the jack staff is known as the Dunkirk jack and is only flown by civilian ships and boats of all sizes that took part in the Dunkirk rescue operation in 1940. The only other ships permitted to fly the George’s Cross flag at the bow are those with a Royal Navy Admiral on board.  See alsoBattle of France Operation Ariel – the later evacuation from Normandy and Brittany Operation Cycle – the evacuation of 11,000 troops from Le Havre, beginning on 10 June  References Notes1.^ “1940: Dunkirk rescue is over – Churchill defiant.” BBC, 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2010. 2.^ a b Longden 2009, p. 1. 3.^ Longden 2009, p. 48. 4.^ Safire 2004, p. 146. 5.^ Winston Churchill 1949, p. 86. 6.^ Taylor 1965 7.^ Knowles, David J. “The ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk”. BBC News, 30 May 2000. Retrieved 18 July 2009. 8.^ “History”. The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Retrieved 11 April 2008. 9.^ Lord 1983, pp. 43–44. 10.^ Miller 1997, p. 83. 11.^ Gelb 1990, p. 82. 12.^ a b c Liddell Hart 1999 13.^ Keegan 1989 14.^ Liddell Hart 1999, p. 79. 15.^ Murray and Millett 2000, p. 80. 16.^ Keegan 1989, p. 81. 17.^ a b c Murray and Millett 2000 18.^ The inspection of the beaches had, however, taken place in the early hours of the previous morning. 19.^ “Operation Dynamo.”(Dutch) wivonet.nl. Retrieved 27 July 2010. 20.^ Beilby, Alec. “More lifeboats at Dunkirk.” Lifeboat, (RNLI) Volume 53, Issue 530, 1994, p. 270. 21.^ a b Morris and Hendy 2006, pp. 13–14. 22.^ Morris 2000, p. 7. 23.^ Salsbury 2010, p. 79. 24.^ Denton 2009, pp. 16–17. 25.^ a b Denton 2009, pp. 18–19. 26.^ Hastings, Max, p.66, All Hell Let Loose, Harper Press, London (2011) 27.^ Longden 2009, p. 11. 28.^ Holmes 2001, p. 267. 29.^ company’s own web site. 30.^ Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk of 27 May 4 June 1940 31.^ Lord, Walter (1982). The Miracle of Dunkirk. London. pp. 161, 211. ISBN 0-7139-1211-1. 32.^ Ramsey, B. H.The Evacuation of the Allied Armies from Dunkirk and Neighbouring Beaches. Despatch published in the London Gazette, 17 July 1947, p. 3297. 33.^ Murray 1985, pp.42–43 34.^ Richards, Denis. “Royal Air Force 1939–1945, Volume I, The Fight at Odds”, pp. 145, 150. funsite.unc.edu. Retrieved 1 September 2010. 35.^ Shirer 1990, p. 736, footnote. 36.^ Ramsey, B. H. The Evacuation of the Allied Armies from Dunkirk and Neighbouring Beaches. Despatch published in the London Gazette, 17 July 1947, Appendix III. 37.^ Rodgers. Lucy. “The men who defined the ‘Dunkirk spirit’.” BBC, 19 May 2010. Retrieved 30 July 2010. 38.^ a b Noakes and Pridham, 2010, p. 167. 39.^ War Diary of Army Group A, 24.v.40. 40.^ OKW Jodl Diary, 25.v.40. 41.^ a b c Noakes and Pridham, 2010, p. 168. 42.^ see his book “Panzer Leader”, pp. 117 ff.: Hitler’s momentous order to stop 43.^ “Le Paradis apres l’Enfer: the French Soldiers Evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940.” Franco-British Council, Publications. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 44.^ Mordal 1968, p. 496. 45.^ Jean-Benoît Nadeau; Julie Barlow (2003). Sixty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong: why we love France but not the French. Sourcebooks, Inc.. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-1-4022-0045-8. http://books.google.com/books?id=wtUWuzzYqa8C&pg=PA89. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 46.^ Pierre Goubert (20 November 1991). The Course of French History. Psychology Press. pp. 298–. ISBN 978-0-415-06671-6. http://books.google.com/books?id=1VbZMbFw89YC&pg=PA298. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 47.^ Churchill 1959, p. 280. 48.^ Longden 2009, p. 367. 49.^ Longden (2009) p. 361 50.^ Longden 2009, pp. 383–404. 51.^ Longden 2007 52.^ “The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships”. http://www.adls.org.uk/t1/. (“Over 100 Little Ships are presently represented by members of the Association”).  BibliographyChurchill, Winston. “Their Finest Hour.” The Second World War. Vol. II. London: Cassel & Co., 1949. Churchill, Winston. Memoirs of the Second World War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959. ISBN 0-395-59968-7. Collier, Richard. The Sands of Dunkirk. New York: Dell Publishing Co. Inc. / E.P.Dutton & Co. Inc., 1961. Danchev, Alex and Daniel Todman, eds. War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2001, First edition 1957. ISBN 0-520-23301-8. Denton, Tony. Handbook 2009. Shrewsbury, UK: Lifeboat Enthusiasts Society, 2009. Franks, Norman. The Air Battle of Dunkirk. London: William Kimber, 1983. 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