The Fall of France, May-June 1940

By 1940, The Second World War threatened to overwhelm the whole of Western Europe; after the quick victory achieved against Poland in September 1939, the Germans focused their attentions on France and the Low Countries; despite a brave and hard-fought defence, French troops were ultimately unprepared for the blitzkrieg tactics that came to define German military strategy during the war.

The above picture depicts German infantry with prisoners of war and inspecting a captured enemy tank. The surrendering French infantryman (left) is a product of his nation’s depleted military might; the immediate aftermath of WW1 saw many top generals resign in peacetime. France’s land forces remained large on paper despite the high casualties caused by the war and the low birth rate that followed, but its leaders maintained a purely defensive strategy that had proven itself during the Great War. Germany, however, quickly exploited such strategies in 1940, as seen when they bypassed the state-of-the-art Maginot Line fortifications by cutting through the Ardennes forest.

French tank crewmen (centre) also fought based around safe defensive tactics and superior firepower. By far the most significant aspect of most French tanks in 1940 was their use of the two-man crew and one-man turret carried over from the revolutionary but ageing Renault FT-17. While this made tank production cheaper and reduced the need for more crew members, it was largely impractical; the commander would have to act as the loader and gunner whilst also commanding. One major strength of French tanks, however, was their better armour and firepower; the B1 bis heavy tank (background) was France’s most formidable fighting vehicle, but suffered from a lack of speed and range. The more lightly-armoured Panzers, by comparison, utilised overwhelming numbers and greater coordination to win the day. Another major advantage held by the Germans was the use of radios; most French tanks still relied on signal flags, runners and hand gestures to communicate.

By Ibrahim Zamir

Sources

‘The French Tank Meme’ (2019), Potential History. YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzZjJQ1YD0U&t=616s) Date accessed: 12th September 2020

‘Why was France so Ineffective in WW2? (1940) | Animated History’, The Armchair Historian. YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlFmYI_mS7Y&t=390s) Date accessed: 12th September 2020

Willey, David: Hudson, Ian (2017). ‘The Tank Book: The Definitive Visual History of Armoured Vehicles’ (London, England. DK Publishing).

Published by Ibrahim Zamir

Ibrahim Zamir - Junior Historian and Illustrator.

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