French prisoners of war
After Dunkirk, in fact, the Nazis did not have to fight: France was killed by fear. Horror swept the whole country. Instead of mobilizing and stiff resistance in the center of the country, fighting in the encirclement and big cities, while reserves are gathering in the south, the French chose to throw away the white flag and return to their old well-fed life.
Horror and panic
The fall of France happened almost the same as Belgium. The stunning defeat of the allies at the beginning of the campaign, the disaster of the best French divisions in Flanders. The shock and complete demoralization of French society and the army. If for the Belgians a stunning blow to consciousness was the fall of the “impregnable” fort Eben-Enamel and the defense line along the Albert Canal, then for France the Ardennes and Flanders became the same shock, the futility of the powerful and expensive Maginot line.
Before the start of the French campaign, the Germans conducted thorough reconnaissance and informational preparations. They studied French society, the state of the army, armored and artillery forces, defense systems and military industry. At the very beginning of the operation, German intelligence services hit the psychology of French society. On May 9-10, 1940, German agents staged a series of arson and sabotage. Weapon and explosives for saboteurs dropped airplanes of special Luftwaffe squadrons. The Germans, dressed in French uniforms, launched terrorist attacks in Abbeville, Reims, Dover and Paris. It is clear that they could not cause much damage. There were few saboteurs. However, the effect was powerful. The society began to panic, spy, searching for hidden agents and enemies. As previously in Holland and Belgium.
French society and the army came under information terror. Various scary rumors quickly spread throughout the country. Allegedly the ubiquitous "fifth column" operates throughout France. The troops are fired from houses, mysterious signals are transmitted. German paratroopers, who were practically not in France, land everywhere in the rear. Like, in the army they spread false orders. The officers who were to order the destruction of the bridges on Massa were killed by German saboteurs. In fact, the bridges blew up on time, the Nazis forced the river at hand.
As a result, masses of refugees swept the French army. Thousands of deserters joined them. Panic news hit the headquarters, rear and reserve units. German raids aviation exacerbated the chaos. Roads were clogged with crowds of people, abandoned weapons, equipment, wagons, military equipment.
German parade on the street of a French city
Abandoned french Tanks Hotchkiss H35 and Somua S35
German soldiers posing against the backdrop of the French giant tank Char 2C No. 99
The destroyed bridge in France
The collapse of the French army
On May 10, 1940, the German offensive in the West began. The allies at that moment had every opportunity to close the Ardennes. It was possible to allocate additional forces for the defense of this area, block, block the passages through the mountainous-wooded area. Throw additional aviation forces, bomb motorized columns of the enemy on narrow aisles and roads. As a result, the entire Hitler plan of the blitzkrieg was destroyed.
However, the Allies seemed to be blinded and unanimously fell into idiocy. On the eve of May 10, radio intelligence spotted the unusual activity of German stations in the Ardennes, where, as it seemed, there was a secondary section of the front. The Allies did not even conduct aerial reconnaissance of a dangerous direction. On the night of May 11, aerial reconnaissance discovered a motorized convoy in the Ardennes. The command considered this to be a "night illusion." The next day, aerial reconnaissance confirmed the data. Again, the command turned a blind eye to an obvious fact. Only on the 13th, having received a new series of aerial photographs, did the allies catch up and take up bombers in the air to bomb the enemy. But it was too late.
The boundary of the Meuse was to be held by the 9th French Army. The Germans appeared before her three days earlier than the French expected. It was a real shock to the French. In addition, they were already frightened by the stories of crowds of refugees and fleeing Belgian soldiers about the myriad hordes of German tanks. The French 9th Army consisted of minor divisions into which the reservists were called up (the best units were thrown to Belgium). The troops had few anti-tank weapons, and anti-aircraft cover was weak. The mechanized divisions of the French were in Belgium. And then the tanks and diving Yu-87 hit the French. Goering's pilots seized dominance in the air, mixed the French with the ground. Under their cover, tank divisions crossed the river. And there was nothing to meet them.
The hasty attempts of the French to put together a rear defensive line beyond the Meuse failed. Parts of the 2nd and 9th French armies were mixed, turned into crowds of refugees. The soldiers dropped their weapons and fled. Many demoralized groups were led by officers. The territory between Paris and the direction of the tank attack of the Germans drowned in chaos. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, soldiers from scattered, demoralized divisions rushed here. The panic actually destroyed two French armies. In Paris itself at that time they knew practically nothing about the situation on the northern sector of the front. Communication with the troops was lost. The command tried to find out the situation by ringing the postal and telegraph offices of those settlements where, according to proposals in the capital, the Nazis were moving. The news, often false, was late, and the French could not correctly respond to the threat.
Wehrmacht mobile command post. In the center of Heinz Guderian, at the bottom left is the Enigma encryption machine. The photo was taken on board the Sd.Kfz radio-controlled armored personnel carrier. 251/3
French guns captured by the Germans. In the foreground - 155/155 howitzers 13/XNUMX
Captured French Airfield
Thus, on May 15, the tanks of Kleist and Guderian broke through the defenses of the French. German mobile units took risks, did not wait for the infantry. The tanks rushed west, they raced along the highway, almost without resistance. After 5 km in 350 days, Guderian’s corps reached the English Channel on May 20. For the Allies, this was like a nightmare: the best French divisions and the expeditionary British army were cut off in Belgium and Flanders, deprived of communications. The Germans took a huge risk. If the Allies had competent command, initiative and brave commanders, prepared reserves in advance, then the breakthrough of the German tank divisions turned into a “cauldron" and a disaster for them, and Berlin had to put up urgently or surrender. However, the German commanders took a huge risk and won.
The French General Staff was paralyzed by the collapse of the entire outdated war strategy, the schemes of the times of the First World War, a mobile war not provided for in textbooks. France was not ready for the German blitzkrieg, the massive actions of the Panzervaffe and Luftwaffe. Although the French witnessed the Polish campaign and had an example of a mobile war. The French general underestimated the enemy. The French lived in the past, but got an adversary from the future.
The Germans were not afraid to concentrate tanks in attack groups. The Allies had more tanks than the Nazis, and the French tanks were better, more powerful. But the bulk of the French tanks was distributed between divisions, along the front. The mobile formations of the Germans acted swiftly, in isolation from the infantry. The slow adversary simply did not have time to react to a change in the operational situation. The flanks of the German armored divisions were open, but there was no one to strike at them. And when the Allies came to their senses somewhat, the Germans already managed to cover the flanks.
In addition, Goering aviation defended the flanks of tank divisions. The Luftwaffe was able to suppress the French Air Force with skillful attacks on airfields and a frantic intensity of sorties. German bombers attacked the railways, highways, and places of concentration of troops. With their blows they cleared the way for armored columns. On May 14, to prevent the enemy from crossing the Meuse, the Allies threw almost all air forces to the crossings. A fierce battle began to boil in the air. The Anglo-French were defeated. Air supremacy has become an important trump card for the Germans. Also, German aircraft became a real psi weapon. Howling dive-bombers became a nightmare for the French and British soldiers, for civilians who fled in droves inland into the country.
The millionth allied group was blocked by the sea. Weak counterattack attempts by the Germans fended off. The British decided that it was time to run overseas. The Belgian army surrendered. German tanks could crush stunned and demoralized enemies. However, Hitler stopped the moving parts, they were brought into the second line, they began to pull up artillery and tanks. They entrusted the rout of the Dunkirk group to Goering's hawks. As a result, most of the British escaped from the trap. The “Dunkirk Miracle” was caused by two main reasons. First, Hitler and his generals did not yet believe that the battle for France had already been won. It seemed that there was still a fierce battle for Central France. Tanks are needed to continue the campaign. Secondly, the Nazi elite did not want British blood. It was a kind of gesture of goodwill so that after the surrender of France, Germany and England could come to an agreement. And the extermination and capture of the British army in the Dunkirk region would harden the British elite and society. Therefore, the British nipped and allowed them to leave.
The catastrophe in the Ardennes and Flanders broke the French military-political leadership. Commander-in-Chief Weigan, with the support of the “Verdun Lion” Peten, was already thinking about surrender. The French elite (with rare exceptions) refused resistance and did not raise the people to battle to the last drop of blood, refused the possibility of evacuating the government, part of the army, reserves, reserves and fleet from the mother country to the colony to continue the struggle.
German tank Pz.Kpfw. IV during the crossing of the river Meuse in the area of the French city of Sedan
Soldiers of the motorized division of the SS "Dead Head" at a halt in France
Captured French tankers pull their dead comrades out of the wrecked tanks (judging by the fact that the prisoners on their faces have handkerchiefs to protect them from the smell of decomposition). The Germans often used prisoners for such "dirty" work. Tanks in the picture - French medium tanks Char D2
German diving bombers "Junkers" U-87 from the Immelman squadron (StG2 "Immelmann") in the sky of France
Refugees paralyzed the country
After Dunkirk, in fact, the Nazis did not have to fight. France was killed by fear. Horror swept the whole country. The press, describing various nightmares, mostly invented, false, involuntarily worked for Hitler. First, the French were treated with a series of rumors from Holland and Belgium, then a wave of horror from France itself went. Dozens of paratrooper scouts have turned into hundreds and thousands. The French simply raved about with German paratroopers, who captured entire cities from them. Small groups of agents and spies, who carried out several sabotage, turned into the ubiquitous and multi-thousandth “fifth column”.
On the night of May 15-16, Paris learned about the defeat of the 9th Army. The road to the capital was open. Then they still did not know that German tanks would rush to the coast, and not to Paris. An animal panic began in the city. Masses rushed out of the city. Nobody thought about the defense of the capital of France. Taxis disappeared - people ran to them. The government made panicky statements, exacerbating the chaos. So, on May 21, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud announced that the bridges over the Meuse were not blown up due to inexplicable errors (in fact, they were destroyed). The head of government spoke of false news, of treason, sabotage and cowardice. General Korap called the commander of the 9th Army a traitor (later the general was acquitted).
This hysteria spurred general madness. Traitors and agents have been seen everywhere. Millions of people poured from north and east to northwest, west and south of France. We ran on trains, buses, taxis, carts and on foot. The panic took the form of "save, who can!" Normandy, Brittany and Southern France were crammed with people. Trying to cope with human waves, the French Civil Defense Corps, hastily created on May 17, began to block roads. They tried to check refugees, searched for agents and saboteurs. As a result, a new wave of fear and monstrous traffic jams on major roads.
In fact, France capitulated out of fear. Instead of mobilizing and stiff resistance in the center of the country, fighting in the encirclement and big cities, while reserves are gathering in the south, the French chose to throw away the white flag and return to their old well-fed life. In fact, the Reich could not fight for a long time at the same pace. Everything was built on the basis of lightning war. The German economy was not mobilized, military supplies and fuel were already running out. Germany could not continue the battle on the ruins of France.
However, the advancing German divisions almost did not meet strong and organized resistance. Although the large cities of France, if there were combat-ready units and decisive, tough commanders like de Gaulle, could have detained the enemy for a long time. Obviously, the Germans themselves did not expect such an effect from a combination of informational, psychological and military methods of war. Neither the massive bombing of cities, nor the demonstrative pogroms of individual cities in the spirit of Warsaw and Rotterdam, nor the psychic threatening flights of bombers, like over Copenhagen and Oslo, were needed. The French were paralyzed. Moreover, Hitler did not have modern tools to suppress and enslave people (such as the Internet network, CNN and BBC networks). The Germans managed with relatively simple means and won.
In France, as previously in Belgium, a mental catastrophe occurred. Any strange phenomenon was attributed to spies. Many foreigners were suspected of being “enemy agents” and suffered. Panic and fear gave rise to hallucinations and aggression. Many French were sure that they saw paratroopers (which were not). Civilians, and indeed soldiers, foiled their fear on the innocent, who fell under the hot hand, and who were mistaken for paratroopers and spies. In some cases, monks and priests were persecuted. The press wrote that in Holland and Belgium, paratroopers and enemy agents dressed in the clothes of the clergy. It happened that the peasants beat the French and British pilots who escaped from the downed planes.
Thousands of people in France were arrested, deported and imprisoned. They were mistaken for representatives of the “fifth column”. German citizens, Flemish and Breton nationalists, Alsatians, foreigners in general, Jews (including refugees from Germany), communists, anarchists and all the "suspicious" were in its ranks. Concentration camps were organized for them in France. In particular, such camps were created in the area of the Pyrenees. When Italy entered the war on Hitler’s side on June 10, thousands of Italians were thrown into camps. Tens of thousands of people were arrested. Some were thrown into prisons and sent to concentration camps, others were sent to labor battalions and the Foreign Legion (large French penal battalion), and others to the mines of Morocco.
Thus, fear and panic broke France. They made the French elite capitulate. The huge military-economic potential of the country and the colonial empire were not used to fight not for life, but for death. Hitler defeated by relatively small forces and minimal losses. The former leading power of Western Europe has fallen. The Hitlerites got an entire country almost without loss, with cities and industry, ports and transport infrastructure, supplies and arsenals. This victory inspired the Nazis unprecedentedly. They felt like invincible warriors, before whom the whole world trembles, for which there are no more barriers. In Germany itself, Hitler was deified.
The Führer showed the Germans that a war might not be protracted, bloody and hungry, but swift and easy. Victory in the West was achieved with minimal losses, material costs, without mobilization tension. For most of Germany, nothing had changed at that time, a peaceful life continued. Hitler was at the pinnacle of fame, he was adored. Even the German generals, who were terribly afraid of the war with France and England and plotted against the Fuhrer, now forgot about their plans and celebrated the victory.
German soldiers with captured French reconnaissance bomber Amiot 143
Captured French soldiers, among them several blacks from the French colonial units
A column of captured French soldiers. Among them are many Africans from the French colonial units.
Wehrmacht soldiers "wash" the rewards received for the campaign in France