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  • Lack of French response to Poland invasion

    Can anyone recommend a book or article concerning the French response as to why they did not respond to the German attack on Poland? Historians agree that, had France responded, they would have ended the war in 1939, since the German lines were thinly held. I am particularly interested in what the French say concerning this.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Copland View Post
    Can anyone recommend a book or article concerning the French response as to why they did not respond to the German attack on Poland? Historians agree that, had France responded, they would have ended the war in 1939, since the German lines were thinly held. I am particularly interested in what the French say concerning this.
    Which historians say this?

    I would suggest:

    Eugenia R Dickson's "Arming Against Hitler, France and the Limits of Military Planning"

    Robert Doughty's "Seeds of Disaster"

    William SHirer's "The Collapse of the Third Republic"

    Ernest May's "Strange Victory"

    Try to avoid texts that simply recount the chronolgy of the battle without looking in depth at the 20 years between the wars. That is where the answer lies.

    In brief, the French did not respond because of the nature of the structure of the peace time army and how it was to be expanded during mobilisation. The "Active" army consisted of only some 20 regular divisions made up of the professional cadre (about 106,000 men) and two classes of short service conscripts (about another 125,000 give or take), the first class waiting to be released into the civilian ready reserve, the second class made up of new recruits.

    When the declaration of war and order to mobilise came, with the exception of a small covering force in the Maginot Line, all 20 divisions were to be broken down into 60 regiments which would then absorb 120 reservist regiments and form the main 60 divisions or the main army. All of this takes time and while it is going on there is, effectively, no army available with which to launch an invasion.

    It is a little more complex than that but I think you get the idea.
    Last edited by The Purist; 19 Aug 07, 19:22.
    The Purist

    Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by The Purist View Post
      Which historians say this?

      I would suggest:

      Eugenia R Dickson's "Arming Against Hitler, France and the Limits of Military Planning"

      Robert Doughty's "Seeds of Disaster"

      William SHirer's "The Collapse of the Third Republic"

      Ernest May's "Strange Victory"

      Try to avoid texts that simply recount the chronolgy of the battle without looking in depth at the 20 years between the wars. That is where the answer lies.

      In brief, the French did not respond because of the nature of the structure of the peace time army and how it was to be expanded during mobilisation. The "Active" army consisted of only some 20 regular divisions made up of the professional cadre (about 106,000 men) and two classes of short service conscripts (about another 125,000 give or take), the first class waiting to be released into the civilian ready reserve, the second class made up of new recruits.

      When the declaration of war and order to mobilise came, with the exception of a small covering force in the Maginot Line, all 20 divisions were to be broken down into 60 regiments which would then absorb 120 reservist regiments and form the main 60 divisions or the main army. All of this takes time and while it is going on there is, effectively, no army available with which to launch and invasion.

      It is a little more complex than that but I think you get the idea.
      Purist,

      Is it true that the reorganization process was scheduled to be completed by Jan 1940?
      Flag: USA / Location: West Coast

      Prayers.

      BoRG

      http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/8757/snap1ws8.jpg

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PtsX_Z3CMU

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      • #4
        Originally posted by salinator
        Purist,

        Is it true that the reorganization process was scheduled to be completed by Jan 1940?
        I am not sure what you mean by "reorganisation". Can you give me some more details?

        On the other hand the first stage of mobilisation was completed in the roughly three weeks but so many specialists critical to the war economy had also been called up that production immediately began to drop. Returning these specialists to their civilian jobs took time and had the unfortunate effect of stripping units of the radio and telephone operators, tank units lost their mechanics, and so on. No one had realised the scale of shortage and no reservists had been trained to fill these slots.

        This resulted in clerks being reassigned as gunners to artillery, riflemen as tank drivers, cooks as riflemen and on and on. It was a bit of a problem to say the least. Add to this the situation where reservist and regular alike had been trained on older WWI kit only to be issued brand new modern guns and tanks when mobilsation occurred and you quickly reach a point where the French army was barely in a state to man the frontiers much less attack the Germans dug into the West Wall.

        The Germans expected the same French army that existed in 1914,...that army no longer existed.
        The Purist

        Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by The Purist View Post
          I am not sure what you mean by "reorganisation". Can you give me some more details?

          On the other hand the first stage of mobilisation was completed in the roughly three weeks but so many specialists critical to the war economy had also been called up that production immediately began to drop. Returning these specialists to their civilian jobs took time and had the unfortunate effect of stripping units of the radio and telephone operators, tank units lost their mechanics, and so on. No one had realised the scale of shortage and no reservists had been trained to fill these slots.

          This resulted in clerks being reassigned as gunners to artillery, riflemen as tank drivers, cooks as riflemen and on and on. It was a bit of a problem to say the least. Add to this the situation where reservist and regular alike had been trained on older WWI kit only to be issued brand new modern guns and tanks when mobilsation occurred and you quickly reach a point where the French army was barely in a state to man the frontiers much less attack the Germans dug into the West Wall.

          The Germans expected the same French army that existed in 1914,...that army no longer existed.
          Thank you for your reply. Please forgive me for my poor choice of words. By 'reorganisation' I meant the time frame between the release of the first class of short term conscripts and the assimilation of the second class into the regular units. I am curious to the timeframe that would have been allowed for if war had not broken out.
          Flag: USA / Location: West Coast

          Prayers.

          BoRG

          http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/8757/snap1ws8.jpg

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PtsX_Z3CMU

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          • #6
            I do not know about reorganisation, but it seems that even in May 1940, the British and the French were still unprepared for war.

            After having been neglected during the 1920's and early 1930's, it was simply impossible to expect the armed forces to be fully mobilised, trained and equipped for combat in two years' time against an enemy that had been mobilising for two years longer and that had fought limited conflicts to shake out the rust.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by salinator View Post
              Thank you for your reply. Please forgive me for my poor choice of words. By 'reorganisation' I meant the time frame between the release of the first class of short term conscripts and the assimilation of the second class into the regular units. I am curious to the timeframe that would have been allowed for if war had not broken out.
              Ah, I see now.

              Two semesters were called up each year in March and October. Their service time was 1 year and here is a breakdown of their training days (I borrowed it from a post I did in 2005)

              One American observer serving three months with the 502nd tank regiment recorded the following breakdown of the 365 day calendar year - *22 day break between semesters, 20 days inducting/releasing each semester, 49 Sundays off, 15 days annual leave, 35 days on agricultural duties and special leaves, 10 days sick leave, 50 days guard duty, 30 days for national holidays and equipment inspection
              That leaves about 130 odd days (with exceptions, of course) to actually make an infantryman, gunner or tank crewman. Gets a bit dodgy when you need to train specialists for radio and telephone work, intel, recon, mechanics and the host of other more technically advanced trades.

              This scheme officially remained in place until 1936 when the term of service was increased to two years. However, it would be incorrect to assume the threat of German attack spurred this change. It was driven by the declin in the birth rate as a result of WWI and the fact that the amount recruits available under the one year scheme had dropped by nearly 50% as a result of WWI casualties and all the unborn male children that resulted. If the army wanted to maintain its basic peace time strength it was forced to retain the one year conscript for two years. While this allowed for some more training time of fresh recruits in the last few years before the war, the number of recruits had been halved.
              Last edited by The Purist; 19 Aug 07, 20:32.
              The Purist

              Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

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              • #8
                I was reading Panzer Aces by Franz Kurowski. On page one he says, "France missed its opportunity to simply overrun Germany's weakly defended western frontier and end the war in 1939. When Britain and France declared war, Germany did not have a single panzer division in the west. With the return of Germany's six panzer divisions from Poland, any chance of a quick Allied victory disappeared for good." Also, James L. Stokesbury, in his book, A Short History of WWII, says on page 75 that, "The big question of the 1939 campaign is not what happened to Poland, or to Germany or Russia, but what happened to France and Great Britain. At a time when the Germans were almost completedly committed in Poland, why did Britain and France not strike quickly and hard? This was what the Poles expected as help from their allies; this was, in effect, what Poland died for. He continues, "The saddest aspect of the whole matter is that the Western Allies could have done so. There is virtually no doubt that had they attacked vigorously, they could have broken through the thin screen of Germans, and across the Rhine. They could, and should, have easily defeated Germany, and the Second World War would never have gotten off the ground." In the book, What If? Strategic Alternatives of WWII, author John Munholland, writes on pg. 33, that, "Had the French launched an attack, it probably would have been successful." He continues, "The postwar testimonies and memoirs of the German generals all express astonishment at French inaction."

                I am aware of the debate concerning French mobilization, and their defensive strategy, i.e. The Maginot Line. I was interested in what the French military leaders said after the war, when postwar analysis started.

                Thanks for all the input.

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                • #9
                  We mustn't forget that the Germans had their own fortifications along the France-Germany frontier.

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                  • #10
                    It should not be forgotten that the French did launch a small offensive into the Saarland. The French advanced five miles against little opposition and then halted and within a few weeks had withdrawn most of the units back behind the Maginot line, leaving a small covering force with orders to retreat if pressed. The German did attack later in the autumn and for just over a hundred dead regained all the lost ground.

                    While it is true that the training for the French Reserves was poor in September 1939. The bulk of the Germen Army Reserves had had no training at all due to consciption being reintrouduced only in 1935. There are many stories of reculant Germen being called up in their late twenites or thirities, unfit and without any miltary knowledge at all. However the Germen made much better use of the next eight months to train these men, while the French reservist spend too much time being defence positions instead of receiving weapons and unit training.
                    War is less costly than servitude

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Copland View Post
                      I was reading...<snip>
                      With all due respect to the authors you mention I think you need to delve into their sources and examine how much they made use of archives and other primary sources. Iirc, the Germans had some 17 odd divisions deployed in the pillboxes behind the mines and barriers of the West Wall and that by the time the French were supposed to attack the Germans were already shifting divisions west.

                      One must ask the question of Kurowski what troops the French were to attack with? What training the army had received paid little attention offensive acttions and, as the campaign the next spring showed, even maintaining a defensive position was to prove beyond the ability of the French Army.

                      Stokesbury asks a question that is easily answered if he has done his research into the make up of both the French and British armies. Neither had trained for offensive warfare, the British in particular had not even managed a full scale divisional exercise since some time in the 1920s. The British army had been spread across the empire as a battalion and brigade sized police force and was really in no better shape in 1939 than were the French.

                      Where Stokesbury states, "There is virtually no doubt that had they attacked vigorously, they could have broken through the thin screen of Germans, and across the Rhine.", I would ask of him the same questions as above, with what were the allies to attack? Counting rifles and guns and comparing it to the other side is no guarantee of success.

                      Munholland points out the surprise of the Germans in 1939 but if one reads their comments in 1940 they are stating something else again. Gamelin noted to the French government and the war cabinet that if war came the French army would not be able to live up to the obligations made by the politicians some years before. Gamelin and the other senior French commanders were well aware of the limitation of the army and had argued against both the conscription laws of 1923 and 1928 as well as against the creating of a reserve system that would end up being forced to train itself (when the gov't decided to fund it). The French generals were not listened to but since they lived in a democracy they stated their case and then went off to make the best of a bad job.

                      I strongly suggest you read both Kiesling and Doughty's work. Be warned though, these are not mass market releases but scholarly works written for other researchers (one is part of a doctoral thesis). Neither exceeds, I believe, but they are packed with information and the chapter notes are often as worthwhile to read as the chapters themselves and run for many more pages.
                      The Purist

                      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

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                      • #12
                        It could be that France and GB weren't being able to assault III Reich at september 1939,but their promises made Polish Government to deploy Polish Army in a thin line close to the borders.
                        It was done to show whole world that it wouldn't be another anschluss ,but a real war ,from first hours,but by that strategy many of Polish divisions had been bypassed by German Tanks & Motor Divisions in a three days of war.
                        French and British promises made Polish Supreme HQ to choose the worst strategy of defence.
                        Guerrero contra marxismo

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                        • #13
                          I think British and French inactivity or "phoney war" had a certain element of wishful thinking about it. I think that they felt Hitler should be stood up but really really didnt want another catastrophic war at the same time so fell into a middle of the road kind of policy of doing not a lot. With hindsight if they had got on with it then that war they despewrately wanted to avoid may well have been well avoided.

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                          • #14
                            "Lack of French response to Poland invasion"


                            Let's be honest about it.... there wasn't that much froggy response when France got invaded never mind Poland!

                            The long toll of the brave
                            Is not lost in darkness
                            Over the fruitful earth
                            And athwart the seas
                            Hath passed the light of noble deeds
                            Unquenchable forever.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Bartek View Post
                              It could be that France and GB weren't being able to assault III Reich at september 1939,but their promises made Polish Government to deploy Polish Army in a thin line close to the borders.
                              It was done to show whole world that it wouldn't be another anschluss ,but a real war ,from first hours,but by that strategy many of Polish divisions had been bypassed by German Tanks & Motor Divisions in a three days of war.
                              French and British promises made Polish Supreme HQ to choose the worst strategy of defence.
                              Regardless, Poland was destined to lose. Geography, lethargic allies, and fighting a two front war ensured it.

                              Originally posted by copenhagen View Post
                              I think British and French inactivity or "phoney war" had a certain element of wishful thinking about it. I think that they felt Hitler should be stood up but really really didnt want another catastrophic war at the same time so fell into a middle of the road kind of policy of doing not a lot. With hindsight if they had got on with it then that war they despewrately wanted to avoid may well have been well avoided.
                              The Phoney war occurred after the Polish campaign.
                              If you can't set a good example, be a glaring warning.

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