Why did France fall with such startling speed in the summer of 1940?
Shortly after Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, Winston Churchill exclaimed, “Thank God for the French Army”. This widespread view that France was the dominant continental military power during the inter-war years was suddenly shattered by its defeat by Germany in only six weeks in 1940. May historians agree that, “The French military collapse in 1940 was one of the great military catastrophes in world history.” Its sudden demise is often attributed to domestic factors within France at this time, but more convincingly, was due to military failure and incompetent leadership.
It was the French strategy to adopt a defensive stance at the beginning of the war. The main aim was to prevent battle from reaching French soil, as they did not want to repeat the losses and trauma of World War 1. Major Guan sums up the defensive mindset of the French perfectly, “The goal in French strategy in the 1940 campaign was to avoid defeat, rather than achieve immediate victory.” The Maginot Line was successful in that its main intention was to divert the German army away from France and into Belgium. If the German Army had of kept to their original plans and attacked through Belgium, France may not have fell with such speed, or even, fell at all.
Due to compromised war plans, Germany changed their route of attack from Belgium, to the Manstein Plan, entering into France through the Ardennes. Three factors contribute to the success of the Manstein Plan, first being the French view that this area was impenetrable due to its vast forest and hilly terrain. In 1934, Marshall Petain announced, “This sector is not dangerous”, and in preparation for the attempted German invasion, stationed only one weak force in the area, General Anc Corap’s Ninth Army, who were no match for the German panzer divisions that emerged from the Ardennes.
The second factor that resulted in the Manstein success was the French High...