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Thread: Spirit or ice?

  1. #31
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    Default Re: Spirit or ice?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rising Sun* View Post
    That does tend to undermine the purpose and usefulness of a reserve.



    That does tend to exacerbate the stupidity of committing all one's reserves before one knows the critical point to, and moment at, which to apply them.
    Yes, but suffice to say, the French attempted to defend everywhere using the Maginot Line as a lynch pin. And if trying to defend everywhere, they "defended nowhere."

    A telephone and R/T set or three in his HQ could have overcome that.

    It is said that a great commander has a picture of the battlefield in his mind, but the speed of war in the 20th century required the commander to update that picture frequently. What possessed Gamelin to isolate himself from rapid communications?
    See my post above. A combination of a irrational fear of Abwehr SIGNIT intercepting his communiques and a completely unrealistic 19th century view of war as a slowly unfolding "methodical" exercise that belied the advances in automotive technology from the previous war which saw tanks transformed from crude tractor boxes almost as hazardous to their crews as the enemy to reliable machines capable of sustained operations and long range. The same is true for trucks with pneumatic tires, etc. Though that doesn't explain everything. For instance, both French and German planners assumed that it would take German forces at least 10-12 days to cross the Meuse River even if they did attack through the Ardennes, and that would give the French plenty of time to react and pull back from Belgium if the Sedan proved to be the German "Schwerpunkt" or point of attack/emphasis. So instantaneous radio and telephone communications were thought of as superfluous to an extent. It was believed that the Germans would of course have to move up heavy artillery to smash the somewhat formidable French fortifications as classic military dictum before enforcing a river crossing. The Germans instead used an ad hoc combination of heavy Luftwaffe air support and tank cannons to achieve the river crossing in a matter of hours. The Germans were simply much better trained operationally for modern war and to adapt on the fly --even if their senior leaders often shared the same dogma as the French commanders...
    Last edited by Nickdfresh; 01-18-2014 at 12:34 PM.

  2. #32
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    Default Re: Spirit or ice?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    but I think he overestimates some of the French military's abilities (he insinuates that the French Armée de l'Air was roughly equivalent to the Luftwaffe in combat power in terms of numbers, but I think that's a bit absurd when a quality comparison is done)...
    Actually, if he's talking about combat power available as opposed to committed to the battle I don't think he's far wrong. Take a look at http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/a.../kirkland.html , paying particular attention to sortie rates. The RAF committed a higher fraction of their fighters to the Battle of France than the AdA did, and the AdA sortie rates were very low (0.9 sorties/day for the fighters, dropping to 2 sorties per squadron per week for the reconnaissance aircraft - the Germans were averaging 4 sorties per day at this point). Then on the 17th of June they withdrew the cream of the AdA (which as I understand it had been largely kept out of the action to this point) to North Africa. Overall it looks to me like their priority was postwar inter-service bunfights rather than beating the Germans.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    I agree with almost everything you say, but I think the categorical dismissing of the entire French junior officer class in wholly unfair. Weygand was in fact not much better than Gamelin, he was no doubt a better commander and more realistic even if less capable then Gamelin in pure intellect. And while Gamelin comes off as a fool who essentially became catatonic in the face of the unfolding disaster, I think he is overly demonized for the prewar planning as some of his moves did make sense and were only obvious as failures with the benefit of hindsight. But no question that he was an absolute disaster as the Allied generalissimo. The problem is that either man was at the top of the French command system to begin with as both were the typical geriatric fossil that was indicative of the French senior officer cadre. The career of more capable men such as de Gaulle were routinely slowed if not outright blocked by men in their 70's that had no business being in command of troops --commands based solely on their records and associations from WWI.
    There are a couple of things going on here. Gamelin was one of the defendants at Riom and kept his mouth shut there while Daladier and Blum did the "it wasn't me, it was him" trick, pointing at Gamelin. That will always affect his reputation.
    As for De Gaulle, he made the mistake of getting deeply involved in politics prewar, ostensibly to argue for more tanks. The problem is, the French army was the most heavily armoured in the world and the other thrust of his argument was for a professional army. That went down well with the right wing in France (with whom De Gaulle was very cosy - witness Reynaud appointing him Under Secretary of State for National Defence & War), the Left were terrified by the prospect of a professional army after the experience of the Communards. Immediately before the war there were annual processions to the Communards' Wall in the Père Lachaise cemetery, with the record being 600,000 people led by Blum and Thorez in 1936. In that atmosphere, a politically connected general arguing for a professional army is career suicide - if anything it's remarkable he was promoted as high as he was.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    It should be noted however that Weygand, for all his many failings, did devise a system that slowed the German "Blitzkrieg" called the hedgehog defense of fortifying towns and natural areas and provisioning them for long sieges frustrating the German tactic of bypassing strong points and just leaving them for the infantry to mop up. Gamelin made bad decisions often, but his overall plan made sense in that he wanted to avoid a pitched battle against the operationally superior German Heer and hope that the Germans would conveniently wear themselves down in battles like the ones that took place at Hannut and The Gembloux Gap. Unfortunately those French tactical victories were wasted and they were forced to retreat. Gamelin also envisioned a "Grande Offensive" later in 1940 or 1941 that required them holding the Netherlands (similar to Market Garden). Also, one thing we tend to fail to appreciate was the political nature of things in 1940, not just the cold military situation. France was essentially bound to defend Belgium, even if it was only a token defense, and losing Belgium to the Germans without any attempt to aid them early would have been a political disaster. Unfortunately, the Dyle Plan turned into a military disaster for a myriad of reasons.
    Oh, I'm not arguing with the logic. The problem is, his battle plan didn't match the resources he had available - indeed, it reminds me of Napoleon's quip when shown a map with all the forces to defend France spread out along the borders. He asked if it was intended to stop smuggling - and the same applies here, as it sacrificed all of the advantages of mass and concentration ensuring that no matter where they attacked the Germans could attain numerical superiority.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    French Army officers were poorly trained for the rigors of modern, mobile warfare and were indoctrinated into a systemic failure of the doctrine called "Methodical Battle." A presumption that modern war was a very slow, complex ballet of combined arms focusing on very localized breakthroughs in a gradual war of attrition that would inevitably favor the Allies. French officers were trained to stay away from direct combat and run the war from beyond visual range in command posts. The idea was that they would make better military decisions out of logic rather than emotive ones based on the gore and casualties of combat. The typical Heer or SS officer was trained in a completely antithetical tradition of 'Auftragstaktik' ("mission-to-tactics") meaning they led from the front and were far more ably to make actual military judgements made out of situational awareness.
    The thing is, if implemented well there is actually a fair amount to recommend this. The problem is not only that it was badly implemented, but that the troops were poorly trained and suffering from low morale (which can IMHO as much as anything be blamed on their officers - comparing the way the British and French soldiers were treated over the winter of 1939/40 is instructive here) and so needed leadership on the spot rather than direction by telephone or more likely courier. Where the French were in good defensive positions this seems to have worked reasonably well (for example at Monthermé, where the Madagascan troops stopped the Germans dead for several days), but as soon as the Germans broke through it was disastrous. With the BEF of 1914, for instance, it would probably have been very effective.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    German officers also used this really neat thing called the radio to talk to each other whereas the French preferred to write up intricate, detailed orders and deliver them personally by driving around to each other, out of some bizarre OPSEC phobia. Often times of course, their orders were to defend lines already overrun and bypassed by the Heer. Often because French planners were basing their assessments of the German advance not on the actual reality, but on the average marching paces for men --not tanks! Auftragstaktik also provided commanders like Rommel, Guderian, and Beck a neat if completely disingenuous excuse to ignore and violate halt orders they found to be silly in the face of the rapid collapse of the French in the Sedan region originating from worry warts in Berlin...
    Thing is, they were assuming marching speeds from 1914. The Germans invaded Poland largely by foot, and managed significantly larger daily distances by dint of using active duty soldiers who were trained and fit, rather than recalled reservists. Even without the rapid speeds achieved by the Panzers, the French command would still have radically underestimated the rate at which the Germans could move.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

  3. #33
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    Default Re: Spirit or ice?

    The general lack of mobile forces and reserves in a French army devoted to the idea of linear defense (of which the Maginot Line was a manifestation set in stone and steel), combined with the chaotic French system of command and control, played a large part in their defeat in 1940. They were simply overwhelmed by the speed and flexibility of the German assault forces. Even so, the risks inherent in German operations - and in the Blitzkrieg approach in general - should not be overlooked. At one point, the German armoured/motorized spearhead was almost totally isolated from the marching infantry required to hold the flanks of its "corridor". This was proceeding behind by way of forced march, but it obviously could not keep up. Wegand, in particular, was not off the mark in his intention of cutting off the German spearhead by means of co-ordinated attacks from north and south. However, by the time he came to this conclusion, the required French and British forces were significantly degraded, there was a lack of force available in the critical area (much of what was available having been left behind in the east, behind the Maginot Line or in the now-secondary Sedan area), and the communications issues and lack of precision in planning resulted in the officers responsible for proposed attacks receiving unhelpfully vague orders after three days - by which time the hard-pressed German marching infantry had arrived to fill the "gaps". Arguably, the 1940 campaign in the West was not a real test of the validity of the Blitzkrieg concept overall; at a number of points, slightly better French disposition of forces, and better command, control and communications systems, might have produced a very different outcome. But ... what was, was. I am not a great believer in "if". Too much uncertainty there ... Best regards, JR.

  4. #34
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    Default Re: Spirit or ice?

    Quote Originally Posted by pdf27 View Post
    Actually, if he's talking about combat power available as opposed to committed to the battle I don't think he's far wrong. Take a look at http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/a.../kirkland.html , paying particular attention to sortie rates. The RAF committed a higher fraction of their fighters to the Battle of France than the AdA did, and the AdA sortie rates were very low (0.9 sorties/day for the fighters, dropping to 2 sorties per squadron per week for the reconnaissance aircraft - the Germans were averaging 4 sorties per day at this point). Then on the 17th of June they withdrew the cream of the AdA (which as I understand it had been largely kept out of the action to this point) to North Africa. Overall it looks to me like their priority was postwar inter-service bunfights rather than beating the Germans.
    In numbers perhaps, but certainly not in the quality of technology or doctrine. The French made the unfortunate error of modernizing their Air Force just prior to the inception of the Luftwaffe putting them a generation behind in aircraft almost overnight. They never really caught up. They had a massively outdated tactical bomber force and only about 200 or so Dewoitine D.520's capable of meeting the Me109 on somewhat equal terms. They also faced the logistical nightmare of many different parts as they relied on the American machines like the capable, but second-line Curtis P-36 Hawk increasingly to meet their shortfalls in modern tactical aircraft. In addition, the rapid German advance severally disrupted planning. I should say also that the British RAF deployed one of the worst God awful aircraft ever deployed in a combat zone in the Fairey Battle -which basically served to improve the gunnery skills and score counts of German Flak crews- and kill brave, expensively trained aircrews. I also believe that before one incriminates the French for bunfighting after losing, one must account for the fact that the French also recriminated the British gov't for hoarding fighters and not committing it's reserve as well, as sensible as that was at the time since Churchill realized the onslaught to come. There was also serious losses suffered by the Luftwaffe, which when combined with the attrition of the Polish Campaign largely thwarted what chance Germany had of decisively defeating the RAF later. And 200 D.520's isn't really much "cream." Furthermore on this point, there was serious intention by Reynaud to continue the fight from those colonies until his cabinet narrowly defeated the proposal and collapsed into Vichy Petain's arms, IIRC...

    That being said, a concerted effort to penetrate the Luftwaffe fighter screen over the Ardennes and Army Group B could have wrought havoc on the "Blitz". But Gamelin and is staff of nursing home candidates missed the opportunity and dismissed their reconnaissance pilots --who were often visibly shaken by the panzer columns they saw below and the sheer numbers of Me109's overhead...

    There are a couple of things going on here. Gamelin was one of the defendants at Riom and kept his mouth shut there while Daladier and Blum did the "it wasn't me, it was him" trick, pointing at Gamelin. That will always affect his reputation.
    As for De Gaulle, he made the mistake of getting deeply involved in politics prewar, ostensibly to argue for more tanks. The problem is, the French army was the most heavily armoured in the world and the other thrust of his argument was for a professional army. That went down well with the right wing in France (with whom De Gaulle was very cosy - witness Reynaud appointing him Under Secretary of State for National Defence & War), the Left were terrified by the prospect of a professional army after the experience of the Communards. Immediately before the war there were annual processions to the Communards' Wall in the Père Lachaise cemetery, with the record being 600,000 people led by Blum and Thorez in 1936. In that atmosphere, a politically connected general arguing for a professional army is career suicide - if anything it's remarkable he was promoted as high as he was.
    I mostly agree here. Nevertheless, the French were still pushing towards their versions of "panzer divisions" within the DLM's even in the confines of a mobilized conscript army and certainly a massed, armored counter punch from a reserve, reaction army was more than plausible. Even the original Dyle Plan was only 10 divisions of mostly infantry to bolster the Belgians and serve as a a delaying force against the Germans. The plan was later reinforced to 30 divisions with the cream of French mobile armored forces to plug the gaps between the Maginot and the Belgian fort systems to keep the Germans as far east and out of industrial Belgium -and hence France- as possible...

    Oh, I'm not arguing with the logic. The problem is, his battle plan didn't match the resources he had available - indeed, it reminds me of Napoleon's quip when shown a map with all the forces to defend France spread out along the borders. He asked if it was intended to stop smuggling - and the same applies here, as it sacrificed all of the advantages of mass and concentration ensuring that no matter where they attacked the Germans could attain numerical superiority.
    Well, I won't apologize for Gamelin.

    The thing is, if implemented well there is actually a fair amount to recommend this. The problem is not only that it was badly implemented, but that the troops were poorly trained and suffering from low morale (which can IMHO as much as anything be blamed on their officers - comparing the way the British and French soldiers were treated over the winter of 1939/40 is instructive here) and so needed leadership on the spot rather than direction by telephone or more likely courier. Where the French were in good defensive positions this seems to have worked reasonably well (for example at Monthermé, where the Madagascan troops stopped the Germans dead for several days), but as soon as the Germans broke through it was disastrous. With the BEF of 1914, for instance, it would probably have been very effective.
    It wasn't just their officers, it was problems endemic to raising a large conscript army long before actual conflict. The French Army soldiers suffered from low pay and often worked in agriculture to supplement their pay. Also, problems with training arose because they were often too busy digging works to actually train as units. Also factor in a tedious training system of schools that often plucked soldiers out of the line, sent them to service schools, then dumped them in completely different units and there is no cohesion whatsoever. The French reserve system of segregating men largely by age and training I think was also counterproductive. I think mixed age units may have been a better solution to dumping overage men in single "C" formations or whatever. Although, some "overage" units actually performed well if they were composed of WWI vets...

    Thing is, they were assuming marching speeds from 1914. The Germans invaded Poland largely by foot, and managed significantly larger daily distances by dint of using active duty soldiers who were trained and fit, rather than recalled reservists. Even without the rapid speeds achieved by the Panzers, the French command would still have radically underestimated the rate at which the Germans could move.
    I agree that Poland was largely an infantry and artillery battle, not "The Blitzkrieg" that sort of was developed on-the-fly in France as a solution to logistical problems largely relating to unexpected success. But there were serious issues of training even with the German Heer in Poland and this was brought to Hitler's attention by both Brauchitsch and Halder upon his optimistic orders to invade France in Oct.-Nov. of 1939. They may not have been reservists, but there were certainly numbers of 30-40 year olds serving in the ranks of the Heer even in Poland as foot-soldiers. Not that I'd like to think I wouldn't make a decent foot soldier if in shape, but I recall the Wehrmacht having a high reliance on them due to the still fairly recent expansion of forces..

  5. #35
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    Default Re: Spirit or ice?

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    The general lack of mobile forces and reserves in a French army devoted to the idea of linear defense (of which the Maginot Line was a manifestation set in stone and steel), combined with the chaotic French system of command and control, played a large part in their defeat in 1940. They were simply overwhelmed by the speed and flexibility of the German assault forces. Even so, the risks inherent in German operations - and in the Blitzkrieg approach in general - should not be overlooked. At one point, the German armoured/motorized spearhead was almost totally isolated from the marching infantry required to hold the flanks of its "corridor". This was proceeding behind by way of forced march, but it obviously could not keep up. Wegand, in particular, was not off the mark in his intention of cutting off the German spearhead by means of co-ordinated attacks from north and south. However, by the time he came to this conclusion, the required French and British forces were significantly degraded, there was a lack of force available in the critical area (much of what was available having been left behind in the east, behind the Maginot Line or in the now-secondary Sedan area), and the communications issues and lack of precision in planning resulted in the officers responsible for proposed attacks receiving unhelpfully vague orders after three days - by which time the hard-pressed German marching infantry had arrived to fill the "gaps". Arguably, the 1940 campaign in the West was not a real test of the validity of the Blitzkrieg concept overall; at a number of points, slightly better French disposition of forces, and better command, control and communications systems, might have produced a very different outcome. But ... what was, was. I am not a great believer in "if". Too much uncertainty there ... Best regards, JR.
    I agree with the chaotic command structure comment, but I disagree with the notion that the French lacked mobile forces. The French simply chose not to have a mobile reserve by expending it into Belgium in the first hours of battle. They in fact outnumbered the Germans in terms of armor and vastly out-equipped them in motorized transport. The problem was there was never a coherent French armored doctrine, but they were slowly gravitating towards a more realistic one and may have matched the Germans had they extended a battle of attrition for a few months. Gamelin was trying to avoid an all out armored confrontation with the Germans that he correctly saw as operationally superior and blooded after the Battle of Poland. Ironically, he created the situation that was most dreaded and permitted a strategic penetration by springing at "the cloak" in Belgium as the matador's "sword" jabbed through the Ardennes and flooded into the Sedan. The tank favoring terrain and relatively small space of France was no place to make strategic errors. There was simply too few many miles between the Sedan and the Channel for the French to recompose themselves after the fatal error of the Dyle-Breda Plan --essentially blowing their wad in the first few minutes of the game. Of course, all that being said, it should be noted that French tanks were not conceived or designed properly for the rigors of extended long range combat sorties (i.e. small petrol tanks, one-man turrets, etc.) and many of their numbers were wholly obsolete designs like the FT17. But that being said, the Heer also had large numbers of obsolete Pz Mk I's and tanks that lacked proper guns...

  6. #36
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    Default Re: Spirit or ice?

    ARE you serious? The Japanese were disciplined and strong. i think your comments about them being sdrug addicts brings disrespute to the vitality of their spirit. Your picking at STRAWS and you know it.
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