Military innovation: Germany vs. France
Europe has been the main battle scene of one of the greatest wars ever performed by mankind during the 1939-1945 era, with the Nazi war machine having already dealt fatal blows to several countries on the continent before the Allies could reply. It is not certain whether it was the fact that the German techniques of fighting had been very efficient or the fact that countries like France and Poland had not been properly prepared to resist attacks of such magnitude which contributed in the success the Nazis initially had. In spite of the French having gathered ages of experience in warfare, their strategies proved to be too little for them to have any effect on the German invasion. When considering the Blitzkrieg, and, the fact that it had originally been a concept invented by Napoleon, it is surprising how it worked against the French. There have been several influencing factors interfering with the battling potential possessed by the French at the beginning of the Second World War.
The general public expected Germany’s offensive tactics to have little modifications from the ones in the First World War. Thus, France and England considered that it had been better for them to hold defensive positions, defeating a German offensive which had presumably been very similar to the Von Schlieffen Plan, in WWI. This proved to be a terrible mistake Maurice Gamelin, the Supreme Commander of the French army made, as it turned out that Hitler had totally different plans for his attack on France.
The French and the British had been certain that Germany’s attack on France would be very similar to the fighting in WWI, and, thus, they prepared for a long defensive, not being able to make the difference between the Prussic aristocrats fighting in WWI and the fanatic Nazis engaged in WWII. Most historians actually believe that it had been the French army and its leaders that led to France’s defeat. They motivate their conviction by presenting proof that the French had prepared themselves for a different type of war, showing unwillingness to open themselves to modern fighting procedures.
This had been fatal for the land, the Germans being able to conquer it within weeks, with minimal losses on the Nazi side.
What historians tend to ignore when analyzing the German invasion of France, is that France had been weakened by WWI, to a stage when it could not even consider performing warfare within such a short timeframe. Largely fought on the territory of France, WWI had produced heavy damage to all of France, making it less possible for the French to recover, and, to raise a well-organized army at the same time. Consequent to witnessing the horrors which came along when global warfare had been performed, most people in France considered that the thought of starting another war was a farfetched possibility. While the French became mostly pacifists after the end of WWI and its devastating consequences for their homeland, the Germans, who had suffered tremendous losses in their turn, wanted revenge.
In spite of the fact that the First World War had also deeply affected the Germans, their determination to regain their pride proved to be decisive in the outcome of their military campaigns. While the rest of the world believed that Germany was busy recovering from WWI, Hitler had been secretly pressuring his military advisors to come up with new plans of conducting warfare and also conducting a fierce arm race. The whole world rested assured while Hitler was making preparations to start what would become one of the bloodiest conflicts in history. Germany’s leader had managed to rebuild the country’s strategic plans, and, to regenerate its economic power, resources, and army within a matter of years.
Albeit the British themselves did not anticipate the actions that Germany was about to perform, they still managed to keep their army capable of properly responding in case of an attack. England’s military leaders appeared to be receptive to innovative concepts of combat, finding it reasonable to abandon certain fighting theories which had become outdated. In contrast, the French hung on to fighting concepts that had been centuries old so that mostly anyone with a little military background could have guessed their response strategies in case of a war.
French Generals such as Ferdinand Foch and Philippe Petain were famous for their ingenuity during WWI, when the very concept of involving originality into warfare had brought them victory. However, considering the fact that Foch no longer lived to see his country fighting WWII, and, the fact that Petain seemed unwilling to share his knowledge with those involved in fighting against the Germans at the time, it would be easy to understand what kept France from properly using its forces.
The Germans had learnt a basic rule when concerning warfare: speed and maneuverability make the difference between a successful campaign and a fruitless one. Napoleon was known to have a fondness for offensive campaigns, being aware that static defensive tactics are useless in most cases. Ironically, the German offensive in France had been very similar to one performed by Napoleon years before. If the French were to look back at their military expertise, they would have found that Napoleon would have done the same thing as Hitler if he were to lead the Germans at the time. The French army had been encircled so fast that a number of soldiers did not even have the chance to shoot a bullet.
The Maginot line was considered to be one of the most efficient defense lines in the world. This encouraged the French to believe that there was no need for them to prepare for a counter-offensive in the 1930s.
The “Maginot mentality” influenced the French defeat to such a degree that the Germans used just the brute force of their armies to break into the French lines as if they were non-existent.
The French industry had suffered during the 1930s, as a result of labor strikes breaking out across the country. Apparently, these events happened as a result of communist labor union leaders being instructed by Stalin to stop working. Stalin apparently did this because he wanted to keep close relations with Hitler through any means possible. The French government was having difficulties dealing with the situation, and, in some cases, it had to replace the missing workers with army troops.
One can easily consider that the French were responsible for a great deal of the German success in the campaigns in France. If it had not been for the French leaders who were lacking ambition and good leadership abilities, the Germans might have had a hard time making their way into France. Moreover, the French might have even had success in fighting back the Germans if they were to use their military forces correctly. Instead of acting against their oppressors, the French preferred to stay put, until they could no longer receive supplies, or conduct an offensive for that matter.
In spite of the fact that in 1939 the French had one of the most effective armies on the planet, they could not use it to its full potential, because of the deficient leadership that the army had at the time.
1. Black, Jeremy. (2003). “World War Two.” Routledge.
2. Christofferson Thomas R., Christofferson Michael S. (2006). “France during World War II: From Defeat to Liberation.” Fordham University Press.
3. Kaufmann J.E., Kaufmann H.W. (2006). “Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II.” Praeger Security International.
4. Weber, Eugen. (1994). “The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s.” Norton.
Christofferson Thomas R., Christofferson Michael S. (2006). “France during World War II: From Defeat to Liberation.” Fordham University Press.
Christofferson Thomas R., Christofferson Michael S. (2006). “France during World War II: From Defeat to Liberation.” Fordham University Press.
Black, Jeremy. (2003). “World War Two.” Routledge.
Kaufmann J.E., Kaufmann H.W. (2006). “Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II.” Praeger Security International.
Weber, Eugen. (1994). “The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s.” Norton.
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