German soldiers under cover of Panzerjager I anti-tank self-propelled guns, who came under fire on the road between Annu and Murdorp
Blitzkrieg in the West. The first operation took place during the Belgian operation tank battle of World War II - Battle of Annu. Göpner’s motorized corps defeated Priu’s cavalry (tank) corps.
The Anglo-French command acted as Hitler and his generals demanded. Sent towards the Germans the French and British armies. The allies allied with the Belgians and began to deploy along the boundaries of rivers and canals from Antwerp to Namur. It seemed that the enemy would be stopped, perhaps, and chased (in the north, the allies at first exceeded the Germans). But the Germans acted faster than the allies expected. The French and British sometimes did not even have time to get to the intended positions or gain a foothold on them. German mobile units quickly went forward, overturning the enemy in oncoming battles. In the Ardennes, where a strong blow was not expected, the allies themselves weakened the position of the transfer of additional forces and weapons to the northern sectors of the defense. Ardennes shooters, as they could, restrained the enemy, destroyed and mined roads, arranged blockages of stones and logs. However, German sappers quickly cleared the roads, and German divisions crossed the Ardennes and cut through the defenses of the 9th and 2nd French armies.
The Luftwaffe inflicted a series of attacks on the airfields of Belgium, in the first days they destroyed a significant part of the Belgian Air Force and gained air supremacy. The 6th Army of Reichenau immediately forced the southern part of the Albert Canal (capture of Eben-Enamel). Belgian troops, hiding behind the destruction of communications and rearguards, on the night of May 11 to 12 retreated to the border of the river. Deal. The Belgians left the fortified area of Liège without a fight in order to avoid encirclement. The rapid fall of the first line of defense of the Belgian army stunned the allies. They believed that the Belgians themselves would hold out for up to two weeks, while the Anglo-French troops would gain a foothold on the Dil line and tighten the rear. On May 12, the Belgian king Leopold III (he was the commander in chief of the Belgian army) held a military meeting with the French Prime Minister Daladier, the Allied Command. It was decided that the Belgians would take responsibility for the Dil line from Antwerp to Louvain (Leuven), and the ally for the northern and southern flanks.
The French 7th Army covered the northern coastal flank, on May 11, advanced units reached the city of Breda in the Netherlands. However, the Germans had already captured the crossing at Murdeyk, south of Rotterdam, preventing the enemy from uniting with the Dutch. And the Dutch army retreated to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The French did not dare to launch a counterattack and began to retreat to Antwerp; German aviation struck at the columns of the enemy.
The battle in the central part of the country. Breakthrough of German mobile connections
The decisive battle in central Belgium took place in the Annu - Gembloux area. In this direction, a mobile unit of the 6th Army — the 16th motorized corps under the command of Erich Göpner (3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions) —was advancing. The German divisions were armed with over 620 vehicles, but most of the tanks were T-1 and T-2 models with weak weapons and armor, and there were also a significant number of commander tanks (armed with machine guns). The 1st French army, which went into the Gembloux-Namur region, had a cavalry corps of General Rene Priou, which was similar to the German mobile units and consisted of the 2nd and 3rd light mechanized divisions. The tank units included 176 Somua S35 medium tanks and 239 light Hotchkiss H35 tanks. French tanks were superior to German in terms of armor and firepower. Also, the French cavalry corps was armed with a significant number of light tanks AMR 35, armed with a 13,2 mm machine gun, they were equal to the German T-1 and T-2 or even surpassed them. Dozens of Panar-178 reconnaissance armored vehicles armed with 25-mm cannons posed an even greater threat to German tanks.
Two panzer divisions of the German 6th Army marched north of Liège and reached the Namur region, where they encountered French tanks. On May 12, 1940, the first tank battle of the Second World War took place - the Battle of Annu. The Germans were inferior in armament and armor. However, they had an advantage in tactics: they combined tanks and other branches of the army, actively used radio, which made it possible to react more flexibly to the situation during the battle. The French used linear tactics inherited from the First World War. French tanks did not have a radio. At first, the Germans took over and blocked several French battalions. But then the French threw the main forces into battle and released their advanced units. The Germans were defeated and forced to yield. Large losses were in light tanks T-1 and T-2. All French guns (from 25 mm) pierced the T-1. T-2s kept up better (they were additionally armored after the Polish campaign), but also suffered high losses.
German anti-aircraft gunners visiting the French tank AMR 35 ZT 1 from the 2nd mechanized division, lined in Belgium
French machine gun reconnaissance light tanks AMR 35 abandoned on the road in Belgium
1935 French reconnaissance armored car AMD 35 from the 2nd mechanized division, abandoned on the coastal highway near the Belgian town of Le Panne.
On May 13, the Germans took revenge. The French were killed by bad tactics. They arranged their forces linearly, without reserves in depth. The 3rd Belgian corps, which retreated through the location of the Priu cavalry corps, offered support, but the French unreasonably refused. The Nazis concentrated their forces against the 3rd mechanized division of the enemy and broke through its defense. The French had no reserves in the rear, and they could not straighten the situation with counterattacks. They retreated. In the battles of May 12–13, the French lost 105 vehicles, and the Germans 160. But the battlefield remained with the Germans, and they were able to repair most of the damaged vehicles. Göpner's corps pursued the enemy until Gembloux. The French suffered serious losses. At the same time, the German Air Force actively bombarded the French tank divisions. There, the French had already equipped anti-tank positions and on May 14 at the battle of Gembloux repelled an enemy attack. Meanwhile, the Germans broke through the enemy’s defenses near Sedan, and Priu’s mobile corps left their positions at Gembloux. On May 15, the 1st French Army began to retreat due to the failures of the Allies on other sectors of the front.
As a result, on May 13, the Germans overturned two mechanized enemy divisions. The French were driven back to the river Dil. May 14, the advanced units of the German army reached the river. Deal. After the surrender of Holland on May 14, 1940, the troops of the 18th German army were transferred to the northern border of Belgium, which strengthened the position of the 6th army. Meanwhile, the forces of the 4th German Army broke through the position of the Belgian army and reached the Meuse south of Namur. The 12th Army and Kleist’s Panzer Group also successfully advanced. On the first day, the Germans marched through Luxembourg, broke into the defenses on the Belgian border, on the second day they discarded the French trying to counterattack, on the third day they forced the Belgian-French border and occupied Sedan. On May 15, the Nazis defeated units of the 9th French Army between Namur and Sedan.
In the areas of Sedan and Dinan, the Germans overcame the Meuse. Tank formations of the 4th German army, knocking down the resistance of the French, advanced on Cambrai. Kleist’s shock tank group (5 tank and 3 motorized divisions - 1200 tanks), crossing the Ardennes, which were considered almost insurmountable by the Allies, crossed the Meuse, crossed Northern France and were on the coast on May 20. As a result, the German army groups “A” and “B”, with a huge half-ring, pressed the northern group of Anglo-Franco-Belgian troops to the sea.
Hotchkiss H35 from the 1st French light mechanized division
French heavy tank Char B1, lined in Belgium
Burnt armored car AMD-35. France. May 1940
Padded Belgian light tank AMC 35 during the battle of Antwerp, May 19, 1940
Retreat to the coast
The breakthrough of the German divisions into northern France and further to the English Channel made the defense of central Belgium meaningless. The Wehrmacht now circumvented the southern flank of the Belgian Allied group. The Allies began a retreat to the river. Senna (left tributary of the river Dil) and further to the river. Dandr and Scheldt. At the same time, there were no strong fortifications on Scheldt, and strong resistance could not be rendered there. The Belgians did not want to take the line p. Dil and his capital Brussels. However, on May 15-16, the French 1st Army and the British began to withdraw, so the Belgians also had to leave their defensive line "Dil" (KV line). In the southern section, Belgian troops left the Namur region.
In the northern sector, the Belgians, along with the 7th French Army and the British, held the HF line for some time. Then the French retreated to Antwerp and further, to the aid of the 1st Army. When the French left, 4 Belgian infantry divisions remained in front of the 3 infantry divisions of the German 18th Army. On May 16, the Belgians began to leave the fortified area of Antwerp. On May 18-19, the Germans took Antwerp.
On May 16-17, 1940, the British and French retreated beyond the Brussels-Scheldt Canal. Belgian troops withdrew to Ghent beyond the river. Dandr and Scheldt. On May 17, the Germans occupied Brussels, the Belgian government was evacuated to Ostend. After capturing the Belgian capital, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions were transferred to Army Group A. In the Belgian direction, the Germans left one mobile unit in the 18th Army - the 9th Panzer Division. Allied forces at this time turned into a disorganized mass. The prospect of a breakthrough of German tanks to Arras and Calais demoralized the French.
The Allied Command was in dismay. The British were inclined to the idea of evacuating from the mainland. The commander of the British expeditionary army, John Vereker (Lord Gort), saw that the French had no clear plan, no strategic reserves. The French armies in Belgium turned into unorganized crowds and were unable to break through the encirclement. In France, there are also no serious reserves for the deblockade of the Belgian army group. Therefore, we must move to Ostend, Bruges or Dunkirk. The High Command demanded a breakthrough to the southwest, “no matter what difficulties”, in order to reach the main French forces in the south. At the same time, the British decided that part of the troops would still need to be evacuated by sea, and began collecting ships.
May 20, it became known that the Germans went to sea and the troops in Belgium were cut off. Lord Gort informed the arriving head of the British General Staff Ironside that a breakthrough to the southwest is impossible. Most of the British divisions were already on Scheldt, their regrouping meant the collapse of the general defense with the Belgians and the death of the expeditionary forces. In addition, the troops were exhausted by marches and battles, their morale fell, the ammunition was running out. The Belgian High Command reported that no breakthrough was possible. The Belgian troops have no tanks and planes, and they can only defend themselves. Also, the Belgian king said that on the territory remaining under the control of the Allies, provisions were only enough for 2 weeks. Leopold proposed creating a fortified bridgehead in the area of Dunkirk and Belgian ports. In such a situation, a counterattack to the southwest was suicide. Everyone was waiting for the ring of encirclement to break through the French troops on the river. Somme. Under pressure from Ironside on May 21, the British army launched a limited counterattack on Arras. At first, the British achieved tactical success, but could not get further.
A column of Wehrmacht anti-tank battalion equipment on Liège Street. In the center of the photo is the Krupp Protze tractor unit with a 37 mm PaK-35/36 anti-tank gun
The surrendered Belgian soldiers leave Fort Bonsel (fort of Liege fortified area)
German soldiers are photographed on the captured French tank Char B1-bis. During the exit from the battle on May 15, 1940, in the area of the Belgian town of Flavien, the car in reverse moved into a hole from which it could not get out. The crew left the tank and was captured. Vehicle from the 1st Panzer Division
German soldiers stand in front of the Palace of Justice in the occupied capital of Belgium - Brussels. In the foreground is a monument to the infantry soldiers of the Belgian army who fought during the First World War. May 18, 1940
German soldiers eat ice cream at Le Petit-Château castle in Brussels
The French were unable to organize a successful offensive on the Somme. The British, disillusioned with the allies, decided that it was time to save their troops. The French and British retreated west to Dunkirk, the Belgian army covering the eastern flank. The Belgians took the line on the river. Fox On May 22, the position of the troops was visited by the new British Prime Minister W. Churchill. He believed that the British and French, with the support of the Belgian cavalry corps, should make a breakthrough to the south-west, in the direction of Bapom and Cambrai, and the remaining Belgian troops - to withdraw to the river. Iser. This significantly reduced the front of the Belgian army. However, the Belgians had to leave Pashendale, Ypres and Ostend, almost the entire country. In addition, withdrawal without air cover led to heavy losses.
On May 23, the French attacked the Germans again, but without success. Belgian troops under the pressure of the enemy left Terneuzen and Ghent. The Belgians left most of the country, were driven back to the coastal areas, where there was no large industry and defensive lines. There were no sources of supply. The troops lacked ammunition, fuel and supplies. The air was dominated by German aircraft. On top of that, masses of refugees crowded in the last patch of Belgian territory.
Winston Churchill and the new French Commander-in-Chief Maxim Weygand, who took command from Gamelin, insisted on a breakthrough. However, the British were afraid to drop positions only on the Belgians, who were supposed to cover the breakthrough of the Allies. The stretching of the Belgian troops could cause their rapid defeat, a blow to the rear of the allies striking a counterattack and the fall of ports. That is, it could lead to the complete defeat of the allied group. May 24, German troops broke through the defenses of the Belgians on the river. Fox and captured the bridgehead. The German Luftwaffe inflicted heavy blows on the Belgian army, almost the entire artillery park was defeated.
On May 25, the Germans crossed the Scheldt and practically separated the Belgian and British forces. The position of the allies was catastrophic. Management was broken, communication was interrupted, the German Air Force dominated the air. Allied aviation was practically inactive. The troops mingled with huge crowds of refugees. Some units still tried to counterattack, others held the defense, while others ran in panic to the ports. The Allied Command was unable to organize strong counterattacks from the south and north to release the group in Flanders and Northern France. The British, in fact abandoning their positions and allies, began a retreat to the sea to begin the evacuation. On May 26, the Dunkirk operation to evacuate the British army began.
Czech-made German light tank Pz.Kpfw.38 (t) from the 7th Panzer Division lost a caterpillar while trying to overcome a two-level transport interchange destroyed by the Belgians
German motorcyclists on the street of the ruined Belgian town of Dinan
French machine-gun reconnaissance light tank AMR 35 abandoned on May 29, 1940 on the street of the Belgian town of Vernet
The situation for the Belgians was hopeless. On May 25–26, 1940, the Germans occupied Boulogne and Calais. On the morning of May 27, German troops reached Dunkirk and could fire at it. On May 26, the Belgian army left the line on the Fox, on the eastern flank of the Nazis reached Brugge. The Belgians tried to organize a defense in the Ypres area. The British sought to keep the last hope for evacuation - Dunkirk, and began to retreat to the port. Thus, the British exposed the northeastern flank of the French army in the region of Lille. As the British retreated, the Germans advanced and surrounded most of the French army.
The Belgian command was not even warned of the evacuation of the British. In the battles of May 26–27, the Belgian army was practically defeated. By May 27, the Belgian army was pressed to the sea in the Ypres-Bruges area, on a site 50 km wide, covering the allies from the east. The Germans broke through the defense in the central section. Ostend and Bruges were on the verge of falling. The Belgians did not have the opportunity to independently stay on the coast. They had no hope for the evacuation and help of the allies. Belgian King Leopold III was offered to flee, to abandon his subjects, as did the Norwegian king and the Dutch queen. But he fell into prostration, decided that the cause of the Allies was lost. The king did not want to be an exile and sit in England. Deciding that further resistance was pointless, Leopold sent a parliamentarian to the Germans in the evening of May 27 and signed the surrender at 23:28. On May 550, the Belgian XNUMXth army laid down weapon.
Losses of the Belgian army: over 6,5 thousand killed and missing, more than 15 thousand wounded. Losses show that although the Belgian amia was in close contact with the Germans for almost the entire campaign, the hostilities were not of high intensity most of the time. Only at the turn of the river. Scheldt and r. Fox activity has increased. The rest of the time, the Belgians mostly retreated. Here, the Belgians were under pressure from the enemy and suffered significant losses at the junction with the British army.
London and Paris accused the Belgians of betrayal. The head of the Belgian government, Hubert Count Pierlo refused to accept surrender, led the government in exile, first in Paris, then in London. The Belgian counties of Eupen, Malmedy and Saint-Vit were annexed to the Reich. In Belgium entrusted indemnity of 73 billion Belgian francs. The country was under German occupation until the fall of 1944.
The entry of German troops in Brussels
German soldiers lay down Belgian weapons in Bruges after surrender
During Operation Dynamo (the evacuation of Anglo-French troops from Dunkirk to England), the destroyer Burrask on May 29, 1940, was blown up by a mine in the region of Ostend (Belgium) and sank the next day