Here we present an overall picture to you of the strategy employed by German (“Fall Gelb”: Yellow plan) and by French (“Plane Dyle-Breda”) during the first days of the German attack of May 10, 1940. This to answer the following question: would the Maginot Line have suffered more from the flame attacks and the posterior French denigrations at May 10, 1940 that attacks German?
It should be recalled that the French defeat, by its speed, has amazed the international public opinion. And, whereas the latter claimed a scapegoat, one presented of them several to him of which, particularly, the Maginot Line.
The “Schlieffen-Moltke Plan”
During its history, France is regularly insulated. It is once more the case after the war of 1870. It launches out then in a policy of fortification (Séré de Rivières) then, to guard itself against this insulation, in 1894 it is combined in Russia, which places Prussia (Germany) in a situation militarily uncomfortable.
To break this surrounding, the Prussian general, then marshal von Schlieffen, works out a plan which must destroy the French Armies in 6 weeks (minimum time to make react the Russian army) and allow, then, to be turned over against Russia before it could mobilize.
The plan is the following: taking into account the necessary speed of its execution, it is out of the question to attack is strengthened France. The attack will thus be done massively by the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg; the main axis of attack being that North-South Netherlands, Belgian plains.
Caption: arrows blue sky: Schlieffen plan; blue dotted lines: part of the system Séré de Rivières, vis-a-vis Germany; Al: German Alsace-Lorraine; green round: The Ardennes; B: Belgium; L: Luxembourg; CH: Switzerland; D: Germany; NL: Netherlands; GB: Great Britain.
The plan finally implemented in 1914, by von Moltke successor of Schlieffen, avoids the Netherlands. It is a diplomatic profit, but a loss in possibilities of spreading out of the operation and supply. The plan failed to succeed and we will not enter, here, in the varied causes of its failure.
To be concise let us say that, for the French High command, since the end of the Great War, the policy not being more expansionist, the defensive war is of setting.
In 1940 the borders of France, vis-a-vis in Germany and Luxembourg, are locked by the Maginot Line. The borders vis-a-vis in Belgium and Switzerland (neutral countries) are permeable.
Thus the Gamelin general takes into account 3 assumptions of German attacks: of face, vis-a-vis the Maginot Line; while passing by Switzerland; while passing by Belgium. According to each one of these 3 assumptions it places troops consequently.
This being, for Gamelin (and the allies English) Germany has one choice which can be effective: to reiterate the “Schlieffen-Moltke plan” of 1914, or one of its alternatives. It should thus make pass the large one of its army motorized by the Netherlands and Belgium while making diversion to Luxembourg and vis-a-vis the Maginot Line.
In this scenario, from plan renewed Schlieffen, Gamelin excludes the Ardennes, with horse between Luxembourg, Belgium and France, considering this solid mass mountainous and timbered unsuitable with the displacement of a strong concentration of tanks and motorized machines. For Gamelin the Ardennes can thus be only one theatre of diversion.
The Dyle Plan is thus elaborate on this series of assumptions privileging a German attack according to the arrows blue sky of the diagram below, the large one of the German army being supposed to borrow the axis B.
Caption: arrows blue sky: supposed German plan; blue feature: left the Maginot Line, vis-a-vis Germany (Alsace-Lorraine was become again French).
Until the remilitarization of the Rhineland by Germany, in 1936, exists a treaty of alliance between Belgium and France. But, following the absence of French reaction to this remilitarization, considering that this new retreat of France was a step moreover towards the war, Belgium puts a term at the treaty and adopts a neutral and nonco-operative attitude with France.
On April 24, 1937 France yields, this time in Belgium and Great Britain, while accepting, without counterpart, to guarantee that it will assist from Belgium in the event of aggression from the latter. This guarantee will solemnly be confirmed on August 27, 1939.
France takes care there of a heavy handicap because the Belgian neutrality, supervised closely by German and the international community, prohibited all common operations between the armies of the two countries. If Belgium calls upon this guarantee, the French troops will have to go to fight in badly known ground, without coordination prepared with their Belgian counterparts. On the other hand, with this guarantee, Great Britain makes sure thus of a protection of the Eastern coasts of the North Sea.
The “Dyle-Breda Plan”
In dark blue: displacements envisaged (plane Dyle-Breda) of the Franco-British troops in the event of German aggression of Belgium.
The plan consists, as of the first proven German movements, to penetrate in Belgium and Holland in order to attack the right side of the enemy moving. With this intention, on the Franco-Belgian border, Gamelin placed its mobile troops best equipped with the moment.
From the strategic point of view one can consider this plan as good because France cannot let German be spread out in Belgium and then reinforce with leisure their device thus creating a news and long Franco-German border. Remainder, the French public opinion cannot that to be favorable an engagement forced… out of the national territory has, because let us not forget that the North of France was the theatre, a few years before, of the fierce combats of the Great War.
From the tactical point of view one can consider this plan as doubtful because the committed troops should be much more powerful while operating on a prepared ground of long time (border) that while sinking with discovered in badly known ground where, especially, coordination with the Belgian army was not prepared. Moreover, how to repatriate the units advanced to the Netherlands, if the need makes some feel?
We will leave here, with the strategists, the care to slice on tactical opportunity to launch a Dyle-Breda operation, more especially as a “diplomatic” question more arises then with us.
The “supreme council”
The “supreme council”
We sought has to know, up to what point the interallied Supreme council (large decision maker of the Franco-British strategy) had supported the standpoint of the Gamelin general in connection with his Dyle plan.
The files of the Quay of Orsay seem little provided on this subject. It should be remembered that the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs does not lay out of large step thing over 1940. Indeed, in June 1940, preparing its evacuation towards Bordeaux, good number of “important” documents were burned; the others, piled up in a coach, were taken by German during their transport. Then the Vichy government, after a fashion, reconstituted fragmentary files with doubles come from various embassies and… almost destroyed all during its fall.
Finally, we found an embryo of answer in what one calls, with the Quay of Orsay, “Reynaud papers”. Here what, on May 15, 1940, Paul Reynaud (President of the Council - French ministers) written in connection with the meeting, in Paris, of the “Supreme council” of April 23, 1940:
The assumption of a German aggression against the Netherlands was considered again at the time of the Supreme council of April 23. The Supreme council showed itself of agreement on what, in the case of a German invasion of the Netherlands, the allied armies advance at once in Belgium, whatever was the attitude which the Belgian government could adopt in the possibility in question. The extent of this advance would depend on the Belgian attitude. The Supreme council decided, moreover, that the Belgian government would not be the object of any preliminary step aiming at asking him to give its agreement to the allied action. However, in the possibility of a German aggression against the Netherlands, a common note, making a statement on the action which the Allies would propose to undertake, would be prepared in advance and handing-over at the Belgian government at once that the aggression would have occurred.
Without entering too front a polemic caused by the attitude of combined vis-a-vis Belgium, one can put questions as for the co-operation of the Belgian armies in this case of figure! How the Supreme council could imagine that one can cross Belgium, neutral, without breakage?
If it is added that on October 13, 1937 and on August 26, 1939 Germany had, it also, guaranteed the neutrality of the Belgians while promising to fly to their help in the event of aggression, to enter to Belgium, it was to cause, ipso facto, an immediate German reaction! German then fell on the right wing from the main rising from the allies subjecting the armies of Gamelin what Gamelin hoped to do to them to undergo with its Dyle plan!
How to make coherent this decision of the Supreme council? For example, but it is only one theory, by thus translating its terms: “if the Netherlands are invaded, without attack of Belgium, it is that Great Britain is firstly aimed by Hitler. French will dismantle their Franco-Belgian border then to defend the coasts vis-a-vis in Great Britain, despite everything the risks created by this change of plan.”
This April 23, 1940, Great Britain would thus play its personal chart, with the detriment of the French Army. France is of agreement, certainly, and the Gamelin general abounds perhaps even in this direction! And to reconsider from there to our interrogation the role of Great Britain, it is thus extremely possible which English systematically supported the Dyle plan which, particularly, protected the coasts from the North Sea.
Once more we will leave the strategists, policies, diplomats and historians, the care to slice, more especially as in May 1940 the question was elsewhere, German neither not having republished the Schlieffen plan awaited by Gamelin nor respected Belgian neutrality!
“Fall Gelb” (Plane Yellow)
“Fall Gelb” is the German code name which indicates the whole of the device to be implemented to attack France (after Poland). This plan, elaborate since 1939, underwent many rehandlings until its application on May 10, 1940.
After long hesitations, not on the fact of passing by the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, but on the means to implement and their provision on the ground, German adopt finally the final plan on February 24, 1940.
At the proper time, three groups of German armies will make at the same time movement:
- To North, the group B, will pass the border of the Netherlands and will move towards the North Sea and the plains Belgian.
- On its left, the group has, most powerful from all, will pass the borders of Belgium and of Luxembourg and its spearhead, via the Ardennes, right on Sedan, the weak point of French defense will move.
- Lastly, in the East of Luxembourg, the group C, while being put out of reach shooting of the Maginot Line, will protect the left side from the whole of the device.
Then, the opening on Sedan being effective, contrary to the Schlieffen plan which envisaged to go on Paris, Fall Gelb envisages to take with reverse the troops massed on the Franco-Belgian border.
Fall Gelb against Dyle Plan
Fall Gelb against Dyle Plan
To the beginning of the German offensive of May 10, 1940 the Dyle-Breda plan is applied to the letter and until May 13 does not undergo any modification, date on which the French high command realizes finally which German is not republishing the Schlieffen plan but that they pass in force by the Ardennes, lead to Sedan very badly defended and that they are thus likely to open the possibility of isolating the advanced Franco-British armies in Belgium.
This plan of mowing against armies which are themselves carrying out a catch tortures some makes think of part of play of Go which one could describe as “beautiful” if one were not here in reality.
Fall Gelb is extremely dared because, if the Gamelin general does not follow his obsession (the insuperable Ardennes and plane Schlieffen which should be reiterated) and if the Belgians do not think like Gamelin, the allied and Belgian armies easily have the possibility of blocking German armor-plated divisions which thread on the narrow and often boxed roads Luxembourg North and of the Ardennes.
German one gained! …
After these some historical backgrounds, let us not forget the initial goal of our document, which is to answer the following question: would the Maginot Line have suffered more from the flame attacks and the posterior French denigrations at May 10, 1940 that German attacks?
We can note that, so much in 1914 qu ' in 1940, German was strongly dissuaded to tackle the strengthened zones. The fortification thus made it possible to channel the enemy towards foreseeable grounds of confrontation. What then this drain was this badly exploited by the French Armies, is not another subject, independent of its fortifications which thus do not have demerit?
Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913)
In Berlin, the count Alfred von Schlieffen is the son of a Prussian general commander. He dies in Berlin in 1913.
After studies of right it enters the army in 1854 and becomes officer of cavalry. Transferred to the staff, it takes part in 1866 in the war against Austria.
After military attach3e to Paris it makes the countryside against France (1870-1871) with the staff of the large-duke of Mecklembourg. In 1888, it is promoted Master of higher district and is thus representing of the chief of staff the count von Waldersee whom it succeeds in 1891. In 1903 he is general, member of the Superior council of the war.
Following the diplomatic surrounding of Prussia, by the Franco-Russian treaty of 1894, in 1897 it works out an offensive plan to break this surrounding, plan which it polishes regularly.
It is in 1905 qu ' it presents its plan of offensive strategy against France, with a movement with reverse left the North-East Belgium and a fast projection towards the west, plan which it proposes to make follow by an attack of Russia.
In 1906 it takes its retirement and is named marshal in 1911.
In 1914 its plan, altered by the general von Moltke, is applied with “almost” the success which one knows.
Maurice Gustave Gamelin (1872-1958)
Born in Paris, he is the son of an general inspector of the Armies. He dies in Paris in 1958.
Raise officer with Saint-Cyr military school it leaves major in 1893 and begins there his career in North Africa. Returned in metropolis in 1897, it integrates the School of War where it is noticed by the lieutenant-colonel Foch (future marshal).
In 1906, it publishes a “philosophical Study on the Art of the War”, which places it, seems it, among the best military thinkers of its time.
In 1914 it is with the staff of the Joffre general whom it has followed for a few years. Its effectiveness, inter alia at the time of the battle of the Marne is worth to him to become lieutenant-colonel, to take a command and to fight in Alsace, then in the Sum. It becomes general colonel then in 1916.
Between the two world wars its rise is such as in 1939 it reached the top of the military hierarchy and is généralissime armed French forces. Then, its multiple errors of appreciation of the involved forces, the possibilities of operation of the modern armies, its Dyle plan conceived on assumptions badly tested, its disease, etc lead France towards one of its most memorable defeats.
Decree on September 6, 1940, it is accused, at the sides of Leon Blum, Edouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud. Then the lawsuit is deferred and Gamelin is off-set in Germany from where it will be released only in 1945.
It then published its memories under the title “To be useful”, memories which, according to the specialists, are only one long attempt at self-justification.
Erich von Manstein (1887-1973)
Born in Berlin in 1887, Manstein is the son of Erich von Lewinski (general of artillery) and of Helene von Sperling. Orphan, it is adopted by his uncle Lieutenant Général Georg von Manstein. He dies in München in 1973.
As the documents on Manstein are legion (and due) we will restrict ourselves to make a fast review on its career which, considering the Prussian spirit of the time, could only be a soldier.
After having spent 6 years in the body of the juniors he enlists in the 3rd guards with foot, then in 1913 he entered to the military academy and is promoted lieutenant at the beginning of the Great War.
Briefly with the face, in 1915 it is promoted captain staff officer until 1919.
Between the two world wars it climbs the hierarchical levels in various staffs. Become major-general and assistant manager of the general staff of ground, it supervises the plan of rearmament of 1935.
It begins the second world war in Poland, always in a staff. Then he proposes his daring plan of invasion of France but does not take part in it when this last is implemented.
France, Russia, the Crimea… Manstein is on many faces. In 1942 it is promoted marshal and, at the beginning of 1944, it is put at the retirement.
In 1945 it settles in the west of Germany and, after the armistice, shown war crimes it is condemned to 18 years of prison. For medical reasons it is released in 1953. In 1955 it publishes its memories of war, (Verlorene Siege) then becomes adviser for the new army of the West Germany.
Born in Poissy (78) in 1984, he is the son of Bernard Cima, Co-creator of this Internet site.
Holder of Master II of Modern history and contemporary at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, Faculty of letters, in 2010 it is named professor of history-geography to the College the Oaks, 83700 Saint-Raphaël.
He published, “Life and work of Jean Lorrain, or chronic of a war of the sexes at the Beautiful Time” (Alandis Édition, Cannes, 2009), price of the Historical research decreed by the General advice of the Alps Maritimes.