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What were WWII’s most viable ‘greatest missed opportunities’?

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  • #91
    Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
    The most crucial factor in the 1940 campaign in France is best summed up by an analogy.

    The Germans and French are playing a game of chess. The Germans get three moves for each one the French get to make. Who's going to win the match?

    That is why France lost in a nutshell. The French command and control system was inflexible, plodding, top-down, unimaginative, and antiquated. It was for fighting a static war like WW 1 all over again. At Arras, the 2nd DLM was supposed to take part with the British forces but didn't. The division's commander told the British it would take him an additional day or so to get his forces organized and the orders sent out. The French system of command at the time was that cumbersome.
    Being unable to react real time to what the Germans were doing doomed the French far more than not having a reserve or whatever.
    This is typical and generalize accounting of the 1940 debacle as seen in almost all anglo-narratives in the 75 years since the war.....it's a lot more complicated than that. To be sure there was a rigidity in command, and I'm not saying you're entirely wrong on this because it was true....but it can't account for how everything transpired. There were plenty of instances where French forces held their own against overwhelming odds, indicating that maybe it wasn't command nor doctrine, but a failure to incorporate technology (radios, etc). In the rare instances where German and French forces met on par, French forces often bested their opponents but were later driven away due to renewed German attacks with air power (combined arms, coordination *radios). Had the Mechelin incident not occurred, and the Germans kept with their original plan, I think they could have been stopped.

    The problem with most preconceived narrative of 1940, is that it come from the POV of 20/20 hindsight with the not-so-subtle suggestion that anyone else could have done better...which of course is laughable.

    What puzzles me however is your mentioning of the 2e DLM in regards to Arras....what is your source for this? 3e DLM participated. The biggest problem from the onset is that French and British forces were not communicating with each other, a clear sign that neither forces cared for adequate liaisons. In fact, it seems that for much of the battle, the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing, and vice-versa. According to historian David Lehman, Gen. Prioux had ordered 2e DLM to turn toward Cambrai....Major-General Harold Franklyn did not know this. On the other hand, Gen. Prioux was not informed of a British move towards Arras. Even when the attack at Arras did begin, British gunners were not even informed by their superiors of French tanks screening their right flank and fired on them.

    Seems to me that rigidity of command aside, the biggest problem facing the Allies is the complete absence of any attempt to communicate with each other. The absence, or rather woeful lack of liaison officers between both forces was a good clue of this. Had this not been a problem, I would be inclined to believe that the 1940 battle would have looked differently than it historically did, despite command structure and doctrine.
    Last edited by asterix; 15 Jun 19, 08:45.
    You'll live, only the best get killed.

    -General Charles de Gaulle

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    • #92
      Originally posted by marktwain View Post

      Sending Guiraud's " seventh TDQ North on a dash to re-inforce the Dutch , instead of holding it as a mobile reserve.

      This was indeed a stupid move and I've never understood it. It was a costly mistake to even consider coming to the aid of countries which had previously refused to conduct any pre-war exercises or consider any coordination between nations. The fact that Giraud's big head was leading the charge did not help matters either.
      You'll live, only the best get killed.

      -General Charles de Gaulle

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      • #93
        Originally posted by asterix View Post

        This is typical and generalize accounting of the 1940 debacle as seen in almost all anglo-narratives in the 75 years since the war.....it's a lot more complicated than that. To be sure there was a rigidity in command, and I'm not saying you're entirely wrong on this because it was true....but it can't account for how everything transpired. There were plenty of instances where French forces held their own against overwhelming odds, indicating that maybe it wasn't command nor doctrine, but a failure to incorporate technology (radios, etc). In the rare instances where German and French forces met on par, French forces often bested their opponents but were later driven away due to renewed German attacks with air power (combined arms, coordination *radios). Had the Mechelin incident not occurred, and the Germans kept with their original plan, I think they could have been stopped.

        The problem with most preconceived narrative of 1940, is that it come from the POV of 20/20 hindsight with the not-so-subtle suggestion that anyone else could have done better...which of course is laughable.
        Having read fairly extensively on how the French doctrine of Methodical Battle worked, I'm very confident I'm correct in what I asserted. French command and control, along with doctrinal expectations of how battles would be fought was the primary downfall of the French army in 1940. That doesn't preclude them fighting hard and bravely. It only says that they were out commanded and out organized at almost every level.

        You suggest the French could best the Germans, then state that the Germans would renew their attack, reinforced. The question I'd ask you, is Why didn't the French push their advantage and continue to attack?

        Well, the answer is, that would be anti thematic to their doctrine. Methodical battle was the cause of failure in their short-lived Saar offensive. In Methodical Battle, having defeated the enemy attack, you don't immediately press your advantage. You carefully organize and plan for an attack pressing it once you are set. So, the French units having rebuffed the German attack sat instead of pressing their advantage. It gave the Germans the initiative to quickly reorganize, reinforce, and then attack again.

        Methodical battle was so ingrained into the French military any discussion of alternatives was formally forbidden. DeGaulle got held at colonel for writing his book on armored warfare as it went against the precepts of methodical battle.

        Doctrine matters. Organization matters. It matters more than having a better tank or artillery piece or whatever. It matters more than the raw numbers on each side.

        The problem for the French was as I suggested: Their chain of command was so slow in reacting to each German move that by the time they did the whole plan they'd come up with was useless so the planning cycle started again. Paralysis set in and the French army could do nothing but react to events. Having completely lost the initiative, they lost.

        What puzzles me however is your mentioning of the 2e DLM in regards to Arras....what is your source for this? 3e DLM participated.
        Might have gotten which one was there wrong. If it's 3rd, fine. The reason for its non-participation still applies.

        The biggest problem from the onset is that French and British forces were not communicating with each other, a clear sign that neither forces cared for adequate liaisons. In fact, it seems that for much of the battle, the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing, and vice-versa. According to historian David Lehman, Gen. Prioux had ordered 2e DLM to turn toward Cambrai....Major-General Harold Franklyn did not know this. On the other hand, Gen. Prioux was not informed of a British move towards Arras. Even when the attack at Arras did begin, British gunners were not even informed by their superiors of French tanks screening their right flank and fired on them.

        Seems to me that rigidity of command aside, the biggest problem facing the Allies is the complete absence of any attempt to communicate with each other. The absence, or rather woeful lack of liaison officers between both forces was a good clue of this. Had this not been a problem, I would be inclined to believe that the 1940 battle would have looked differently than it historically did, despite command structure and doctrine.
        What you suggest is just piling hurt on top of injury. It is one more reason that the problem was a command, control, and organization one, not one of will to fight.

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        • #94
          The newest issue of "Guerres & histoire" deals with that. Tactics weren't as important as the strategy. French forces were sent to the north or to the Maginot line with no reserves left. Methodical battle or not, the would have lost be the sheer factor of the numbers.
          There are no Nazis in Ukraine. © Idiots

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          • #95
            Originally posted by asterix View Post

            This is typical and generalize accounting of the 1940 debacle as seen in almost all anglo-narratives in the 75 years since the war.....it's a lot more complicated than that. To be sure there was a rigidity in command, and I'm not saying you're entirely wrong on this because it was true....but it can't account for how everything transpired. There were plenty of instances where French forces held their own against overwhelming odds, indicating that maybe it wasn't command nor doctrine, but a failure to incorporate technology (radios, etc). In the rare instances where German and French forces met on par, French forces often bested their opponents but were later driven away due to renewed German attacks with air power (combined arms, coordination *radios). Had the Mechelin incident not occurred, and the Germans kept with their original plan, I think they could have been stopped.

            The problem with most preconceived narrative of 1940, is that it come from the POV of 20/20 hindsight with the not-so-subtle suggestion that anyone else could have done better...which of course is laughable.

            What puzzles me however is your mentioning of the 2e DLM in regards to Arras....what is your source for this? 3e DLM participated. The biggest problem from the onset is that French and British forces were not communicating with each other, a clear sign that neither forces cared for adequate liaisons. In fact, it seems that for much of the battle, the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing, and vice-versa. According to historian David Lehman, Gen. Prioux had ordered 2e DLM to turn toward Cambrai....Major-General Harold Franklyn did not know this. On the other hand, Gen. Prioux was not informed of a British move towards Arras. Even when the attack at Arras did begin, British gunners were not even informed by their superiors of French tanks screening their right flank and fired on them.

            Seems to me that rigidity of command aside, the biggest problem facing the Allies is the complete absence of any attempt to communicate with each other. The absence, or rather woeful lack of liaison officers between both forces was a good clue of this. Had this not been a problem, I would be inclined to believe that the 1940 battle would have looked differently than it historically did, despite command structure and doctrine.
            They held their own in the instance of set piece battles, like in the Battle of the Gembloux Gap. That was the kind of battle for which they were prepared. They failed in the context of a fluid battle. Flaws in communication is part of the C3 problem that afflicted the Allies. The lack of adequate radio equipment is a reflection of their doctrine rather than of technological inferiority.

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            • #96
              Originally posted by Proconsul View Post

              They held their own in the instance of set piece battles, like in the Battle of the Gembloux Gap. That was the kind of battle for which they were prepared. They failed in the context of a fluid battle.
              The battle of Gembloux was quite a fluid battle … the problem for the Allies is that it was the wrong battle at the wrong place.
              Prioux's Cavalry Corps was a powerful asset and would have been better to have kept intact as a counter-attacking force.

              Flaws in communication is part of the C3 problem that afflicted the Allies. The lack of adequate radio equipment is a reflection of their doctrine rather than of technological inferiority.
              One of the first things the French did on the outbreak of war was to impose a radio silence (and on the BEF). So when the time came to need wireless communication the operators had had little practice.

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              • #97
                Originally posted by Proconsul View Post

                They held their own in the instance of set piece battles, like in the Battle of the Gembloux Gap. That was the kind of battle for which they were prepared. They failed in the context of a fluid battle. Flaws in communication is part of the C3 problem that afflicted the Allies. The lack of adequate radio equipment is a reflection of their doctrine rather than of technological inferiority.
                The problem there was again, French doctrine. The DLM's by doctrine were cavalry units in the traditional sense. They were to screen and perform reconnissance on the battlefield. They weren't expected to be decisive armored units. The result was that while the DLM's did their screening job quite well, and gave better than they got, they didn't hold the battlefield as that wasn't expected as part of their operational role. The result was a tactical win for the French and an operational and strategic win for the Germans.

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                • #98
                  I don't believe retaining the 7th Army's seven divisions would have made much difference in the long run. Whether the motor infantry and tanks of the DLM fought at Arras and the Dunkirk perimeter or as part of the main reserve, they still would have deployed and fought as per doctrine. As Kiesling, Doughty and others have pointed out over the past two or three decade that doctrine proved incapable keeping up with the decision making cycle imposed upon the French commanders by their German counterparts (but that is only part of the story).

                  It wasn't a matter of bravery, the French were brave enough. The realities and challenges of the inter-war years in Third Republic France led to decisions being made whose consequences would only become clear in May-Jun 1940.
                  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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                  • #99
                    Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post

                    The problem there was again, French doctrine. The DLM's by doctrine were cavalry units in the traditional sense. They were to screen and perform reconnissance on the battlefield. They weren't expected to be decisive armored units. The result was that while the DLM's did their screening job quite well, and gave better than they got, they didn't hold the battlefield as that wasn't expected as part of their operational role. The result was a tactical win for the French and an operational and strategic win for the Germans.
                    The problem was not doctrine, but strength .Cavalry can not hold the battlefield .
                    The French doctrine was a result of the French numerical inferiority and of the French defensive strategy .This strategy was caused by /and caused the fact that France had to defend a front fron Dunkirk to the Mediterranean, for which it had not the means .

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                    • Originally posted by ljadw View Post

                      The problem was not doctrine, but strength .
                      The problem was doctrine. The French army's system of doing things was far too cumbersome and unresponsive to the battlefield. Had they been able to adapt and react more quickly, they likely would have stopped the Germans. The British were only by degree better. But, they too couldn't react with the necessary speed to really fight the Germans on equal terms in 1940-- or for that matter in 1941 and for the early part of 1942.

                      The Italians had the same issues.

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                      • Originally posted by asterix View Post

                        This was indeed a stupid move and I've never understood it. It was a costly mistake to even consider coming to the aid of countries which had previously refused to conduct any pre-war exercises or consider any coordination between nations. The fact that Giraud's big head was leading the charge did not help matters either.
                        It was not stupid : without this move ,the northern allied flank would collapse. Besides,there was also a political obligation : to look the other way while Germany was invading the Netherlands, was impossible .

                        Comment


                        • Originally posted by lodestar View Post

                          This is an excellent example.
                          Absolutely and massively important so far as long-term consequences are concerned as of course the fall of France entirely changed the way the war panned out.

                          It was a true ‘turning point’ and decisive event in the full sense and meaning of those terms.

                          Nothing that occurred in the Desert or Mediterranean between July 1940 and May 1943 had anywhere near the gravitas and importance of the events in northern France and Belgium in those few weeks in May and June 1940.

                          The misuse of a strong, mobile French force (which the Seventh Army was) was undoubtedly the most crucial factor (though there were many others secondary ones that played a part) in the fall of France.

                          What should have been the strategic reserve for the allies in May 1940 was instead sent by the High Command on a fatal distraction of their own making.


                          As Robert Doughty said in his essay ‘The Illusion of Security, France 1919 -1940’ [part of the excellent collection of essays in The Makin of Strategy edt: Murray, Knox & Berstein, Cambridge Uni Press 1994]:

                          “As Gamelin’s confidence increased, he allowed himself to become enamored of a strategic design of questionable value.
                          In return for the aid of possibly ten Dutch divisions and to deny the Scheldt to the Germans, Gamelin sacrificed his strategic reserves and severely weakened the ability to respond to an unexpected German move.
                          He also committed himself to the Breda Variant despite the absence of staff talks between France and its neutral neighbours.”

                          This disastrous situation was brilliantly illustrated by a conversation between Gamelin and Churchill on 16th May
                          Churchill: ‘Ou est la masse de manoeuvre?’ [Where is the strategic reserve?]
                          Gamelin: ‘Aucune’ [There is none]

                          Said it all.

                          Regards
                          lodestar



                          Several points are not correct .
                          1 It is not so that the 7th Army was the Masse de Manoeuvre.
                          2 The Masse de Manoeuvre did not exist on May 10 1940, because it was already divided and committed to the several sectors ,
                          3 The German move was not unexpected : the Breda variant was already examined in 1936 .
                          4 7th Army was not that mobile : most of it moved by train .We are talking about 1940, 79 years ago, when mobility meant : by train or on foot .

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                          • Originally posted by ljadw View Post

                            The problem was not doctrine, but strength .Cavalry can not hold the battlefield .
                            The French doctrine was a result of the French numerical inferiority and of the French defensive strategy .This strategy was caused by /and caused the fact that France had to defend a front fron Dunkirk to the Mediterranean, for which it had not the means .
                            The Maginot line was built, partly, to economize on manpower. When the war came they chose to stuff just as many troops behind it as they had to defend on their Northe East borders.

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                            • Originally posted by The Purist View Post
                              I don't believe retaining the 7th Army's seven divisions would have made much difference in the long run. Whether the motor infantry and tanks of the DLM fought at Arras and the Dunkirk perimeter or as part of the main reserve, they still would have deployed and fought as per doctrine.
                              The two motorised infantry division and mech. cavalry group of 7th Army could have helped make the Dyle plan work. If the French supreme command had planned on the basis that the Belgian frontier defence would have collapsed on first contact.

                              Comment


                              • Originally posted by Gooner View Post

                                The two motorised infantry division and mech. cavalry group of 7th Army could have helped make the Dyle plan work. If the French supreme command had planned on the basis that the Belgian frontier defence would have collapsed on first contact.
                                7th army had as mission to defend the Dyle line .

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