Strange Victory, by Ernest May
Ÿ Explanation of how the Western powers miscalculated the threat of Nazi Germany that led to the capture of France only 7 weeks after Hitler invited.
Ÿ Argument based on Marc Bloch's book in 1944, Strange Defeat, and talks about the arrogance of France and Britain, their desire to limit the loss of life, and the cumbersome decision making in France and Britain.
Part 1: Hitler's Germany
Ÿ Hitler's insistence on not waiting to attack France on the grounds that waiting will allow them to become more prepared. He tried to show this to his top advisors on several accounts, but they were less than eager to attack France and risk angering Britain.
Ÿ The generals and advisors for Hitler weren’t as agreeable with his invasion plan than is commonly thought.
Ÿ When Hitler first came to power, many were ecstatic and didn’t expect to be answering the questions they had to only 5 years later.
Ÿ The army wasn’t expected to follow Hitler without question, but enough of the army leaders felt that strongly about Hitler that they needed to show undying solidarity.
Ÿ The differences of opinions didn’t originate between the army and Hitler, but within the army itself.
Ÿ Bolmberg-Fritsch affair - sexual scandal within Hitler’s military leaders that caused a huge shake-up within the ranks. This allowed Hitler to put in leaders that were even more sympathetic and willing to do anything for the cause.
Ÿ The Allies made no real moves during the Anschluss of Austria, because of the overwhelming desire of the Austrians to be part of the German Reich.
Ÿ This gave Hitler confidence that further movements wouldn’t be stopped to invade Czechoslovakia, due to the desire of Sudetenland to be part of the Reich.
Ÿ Hitler proposed to bring Czechoslovakia into the Reich in the same manner as Austria; meaning peacefully.
Ÿ Beck, one of the biggest opponents of Hitler’s military maneuvers, had vocally opposed going into Czechoslovakia, was soon after fired in the 2nd big shake-up in Hitler’s military.
Ÿ Hitler presented a peaceful “solution” to the Czech situation to Chamberlain, letting the country hold a number of plebiscites, withdrawing that idea almost immediately and going ahead with the invasion.
Ÿ He then turned to an invasion of Poland, after signing a surprising alliance agreement with the USSR.
Ÿ Was a German, but grew up in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and didn’t become a German citizen until 1932.
Ÿ Was a soldier in WWI, an experience that transformed him.
Ÿ After the first failed attempt to gather power, and subsequent time in jail, he made a second attempt, this time with great success.
Ÿ He was a very good politician, able to judge the audience and tailor his speech and even speaking patterns to best connect with them.
Part 2: The Western Allies
Ÿ His hesitancy to enter war with Germany was less fear of losing or being defeated and more his memories of WWI
Ÿ The Maginot line, rather than being a blight on French military history, was actually a very modern and innovative way to defend a part of the country using a much smaller amount of troops in a place that was very susceptible to invasion by Germany.
Ÿ Gamelin was Daladier’s chief military advisor, and a brilliant military mind, that Daladier distrusted the least.
Ÿ The French, through their intelligence system, the Service de Rensiegnements (SR), knew much about the movement of the Germans through the German spy, “H.E.”, who was closely connected to those within the higher levels of the Nazi regime.
Ÿ There were conflicts between the military and diplomatic leaders within France, causing a confusion as to what should be done.
Ÿ Though all were in agreement that Nazi Germany was the largest threat to France, there were three factions as to what the actions would be: the Optimists, the Realists, and the Pessimists.
Ÿ Though there was seemingly no reaction from France and Britain with the Anschluss, the action actually set into motion France and England’s recognition that something needed to be done, both within each country and in regards to the French-British relations and alliances.
Ÿ Daladier was less than enthusiastic to sign any accords with Germany, even though Chamberlain, his largest ally, was fully supportive of such moves.
Ÿ The major misconception about Chamberlain was that he was weak. He wasn’t weak, maybe foolish, but not weak. He wanted, above all else, to keep from sending Europe into another war after only 20 years of peace.
Ÿ Chamberlain, after many failed negotiations with Hitler, saw the Munich conference with France, Italy and Germany as a last way to stop the pending war.
Ÿ After the Munich conference, France starting planning for two possibilities; Germany wanted some sort of detente, and preparing for the possibility that war was pending. Daladier wanted to believe that Germany wanted a detente, but he was also persuaded to commit over 40 million francs to build the army up.
Ÿ Britain was facing a similar feeling, preparing itself for the eventuality of war. They knew that if Poland was attacked, as Hitler had hinted at, they would have to intervene.
Ÿ Both Chamberlain and Daladier had seen that war was all but inevitable, but they were both hoping that there would be ways around it. Chamberlain was hoping to make the war seem more costly than it would help, and Daladier was thinking that there would be a destruction of the Nazi Party within Germany, from the SR reports he’d been receiving.
Ÿ The Nazi-Soviet Pact had shocked many, not the least of which was France and Britain, who’d been talking with the USSR for an alliance of their own. It killed the idea of a two front war for Germany and paved the way for the conquer of Poland.
Part 3: Plan Yellow
Ÿ In late 1939, there were many ideas against Hitler being considered, including to depose Hitler instead of risking certain defeat against the French, or to find a way to follow orders without attacking France.
Ÿ Hitler had decided that attacking France in 1939 was optimal, despite what all his advisors told him.
Ÿ Plan Yellow, the plan to attack France, had taken many different configurations, finally being executed in May of 1940, the delay having been caused by weather conditions.
Ÿ After the successful deployment of the attack, there were many people willing to take credit for it, though no one person could take total credit. There were many that were responsible for parts.
Ÿ The only way that it would be possible to defeat the Western allies with their weaknesses was to find the enemy’s weaknesses and exploit them to their best ability, using Germany’s intelligence forces.
Ÿ The strength of their intelligence lied in the Luftwasse and their ability to take ariel photographs of the enemy’s fortifications.
Ÿ In December of 1939, there was a war game to test the possible outcomes of the three versions of Plan Yellow, followed by various other games in the coming months.
Ÿ As the winter went on, it seemed possible that Hitler would call off an attack on France, despite the successful campaigns in both Norway and Denmark.
Part 4: The Democracies' Preparations for Victory
War but not War
Ÿ General Gamelin was deliberately vague as to what he was willing to do with the French military in the summer of 1939, when Poland was the next country to be attacked by Hitler. He put up only a token offensive, thinking Poland would be able to defend themselves.
Ÿ Gamelin was preparing for a defensive more than assisting Poland, waiting for Germany to turn against France right after he finished with Poland, though the Deuxième Bureau showed Hitler’s disregard for formal warfare, preferring the use of subversion.
"The Bore War"
Ÿ Gamelin was sure that Hitler was going to lose against the Allies without ever going into full battle between the two sides.
Ÿ The Allies made the key mistake that Germany was going to attack them in the same manner that they did in the East, and planned for them accordingly.
The Dyle-Breda Plan
Ÿ Britain, by sending troops and assistance, was giving support to France, but there was a question as to whether it was enough.
Ÿ There was a question as to whether, and how much, Belgium would cooperate with France to fortify the area from attack.
Ÿ Even with all the information that the Allies had, they made several crucial mistakes in positioning their troops so that by May, they were very vulnerable to the attack from the revised Plan Yellow.
Ÿ Daladier had to face much upheaval in his cabinet, due to personal and professional agendas that were conflicting, causing him to keep much of the same cabinet as before, with Petain being one of the few new additions.
Ÿ In 1939, Daladier sent troops to Finland, even though it opened a second front with the war against Germany and the USSR. There was also opposition from the British government, though Daladier either ignored or misunderstood their concerns.
Ÿ Daladier, after calling for a vote of confidence, was voted out, and Reynaud was the new prime minister. He, however, wound up keeping Daladier in the cabinet, and using most of his current staff.
Ÿ Reynaud took a very different stance on the war, wanting to put a much more proactive front together than Daladier had backed. Chamberlain requested he didn’t, but he felt it was more important to take a stand.
Ÿ Soon after the invasion of Denmark and Norway, Chamberlain, who had picked Churchill as his successor, regretfully stepped down.
Ÿ As the French were preoccupied with the idea of opening a second front, or trying to stop the opening of one, the Germans had changed their Plan Yellow, and no precautions had been taken for this, even with the warnings of the Deuxième Bureau.
Ÿ The fact and manner of attack on France in the Spring of 1940 is a typical case of missing key pieces of intelligence, and only seeing them in hindsight. The SR was starting to put the pieces together as early as February, but they weren’t understood or seen by the leadership.
Ÿ Much of the German aerial reconnaissance was being overlooked, luckily for the Germans. The lack of protection at the end of the Maginot Line is also a fatal error on the part of the Allies.
The Reasons Why
Ÿ Individuals - There was the belief by a few key individuals that Hitler wouldn’t want to try an attack on the Western allies, for fear that there would be too large losses.
Ÿ Organization - The structure of the Deuxième Bureau was such that it made it very difficult to relay information back to the important people.
Ÿ Doctrine - The Deuxième Bureau kept much of their information under tight secrecy from everyone, making it harder to put a full picture of the enemy together.
Ÿ Culture - The difference in culture between the different decision making bodies caused the largest rift and the largest contribution to the failure of the intelligence.
The Dam Breaks
Ÿ As the spring of 1940 approached, the French government was in even more turmoil, due to internal political strife. The political and military leaders were at odds, and there was no real structure. This lead to the fact that on the eve of the German invasion, there was technically no French government.
Part 5: The War-A Parable?
Ÿ The Allied troops, although prepared for actual extended warfare, had made the tactical mistake of sending troops to the wrong areas, giving the best German troops the weakest Allied counterparts.
Ÿ Very soon into the battle, the Allied forces had beaten the Germans in Belgium, giving them the false hope that victory was at hand.
"Hitch" at Sedan
Ÿ The battle at Hammut, went entirely according to plan, giving the Allies a very strong defeat of the German forces. The battle across the Maginot line, however, did not.
Ÿ The Germans sent their stronger troops against the very weak French troops at Sedan and were able to cross the line and bring forth a strong German victory.
Plan Yellow Plays Out
Ÿ The final installment of Plan Yellow, with it’s distraction on the Belgium front, worked better than those that planned it could ever have hoped for.
Ÿ Though the French did try to counter the attack, the lack of strong troops in the Sedan area brought the French downfall.
Ÿ After the fall of Sedan, the rest of the country, with the exception of the South, fell quite rapidly.
Ÿ On June 14, Pétain was made prime minister. He was very much against the liberalism of the current government and supported the changes Hitler instituted.
Ÿ The general conclusion that can be drawn is the strength and inventiveness of the German regime and the relative lack of these things in the Allied forces. This proved to be very important on the battlefield and ultimately cost the Allies the battle.
Ÿ The major moral that can be ascertained from this conflict is the necessity of using operational common sense in the government. Things must be looked at in their current context, and not within the thoughts of the past.
1. May mentions in his introduction that the strength of his book lies in the fact that he uses both French and German sources in looking at the situation, where other top writings about this time period only rely on one or the other. In your reading, did you find this to be true?
2. The events that happened in 1938-1940 had a cause and effect relation. If, for example, France and Britain had stepped in earlier, or they hadn’t been so adamant about protecting lives at all costs, could there have been a different outcome for the war? Could it have been shortened or stopped in it’s entirety, or was the war inevitable, with Germany occupying much of Europe for the late-1930’s to the mid-1940’s?
3. May, in the first parts of the book, showed the strength of the Allies and the weakness of the German forces, though the Germans did actually overtake the Allied forces. Why, in terms that are laid out in the text, were they actually able to do this?
4. Throughout the entire conflict, there was an obvious arrogance on both sides. Why did this arrogance hinder the Allies but help the Germans?
5. The US involvement is a cursory part of this conflict. If a similar incident were happen today, what would the US reaction possibly be? Would we take the same stance we did in 1939, or would we have been moved to take a much larger role sooner?
Stacy Dorgan, notes for March 8, 2004
May, Ernest, R. Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France
· How does the vast amount of non-English source material contribute to May's argument?
· Can we use history to access contemporary issue in the way that May suggests in his conclusion? Is this somehow putting form before content? Though I think the book is fantastic and like the implication of attempting to apply history to contemporary policy analysis, I don't think this conclusion applies in all cases.
· May's comments on the importance of public opinion in France and England (and extending from his conclusion, in all democracies) is interesting. Could he have expanded upon his arguments and sources to make this point stronger?
· The structure of the book and the focus of his chapters were very important to me. How does May's methodology and organization contribute to the book's argument (e.g. examining individuals, interactions or the same events from different perspectives)?
· May describes in his introduction the three popular arguments for why the Germans were successful in their World War II invasion of France:
1) Germany's military superiority
2) France's decline
3) The French were weak in moral
May argues against all three of these assumptions.
· The three factors he cites as responsible for Germany's victory are:
1) The French (and English) were overconfident; they had not anticipated defeat, though the German generals had.
2) The French and English leaders had the memory of World War I strongly in mind and wished to minimize battle deaths.
3) The bureaucratic French democracy resulted in foreign policy being a function of domestic political necessity, thus France's caution resulted in a slow reaction to Germany.
PART ONE: HITLER'S GERMANY
Chapter 1: Orders
· May begins with France and England declaring war on Germany (following its invasion of Poland); he then steps back to look closely at the years leading up to this event.
· Hitler's generals had felt unprepared for war throughout and worried about an attack by France and England. These reports on German readiness for an offensive show how unprepared the troops were. Generals Brauchitsch and Halder even attempted to change Hitler's mind (as others did throughout these few years).
· On October 6, 1939, Hitler gave England and France his ultimatum; they refused.
· May examines the Prussian-German military culture to establish the generals ideology leading up to this point: the army was considered the soul and keeper of the state.
Chapter 2: Honeymoon
· Hitler had potential opposition, such as members of the Sturmabteilung, murdered.
· He considered the Nazi party and army as two pillars of the state but puts the majority of his faith and virtually unconditional support in the army. Hitler was skilled at playing the two off of one another; but the effect of playing favorites was to give those in the army who opposed Hitler the illusion that they had power. Their real or pretend admiration of Hitler, in turn, gave him the sense that he was in control.
· Hitler was allowed to expand his power after the death of Hindenburg, at which point he began to repudiate much of the Treaty of Versailles (though there was some fear that Germany would be attacked as a consequence).
· May debates against the "myth" that assumes the remilitarization of the Rhineland to have been the turning point in Hitler's power (especially over France), building his argument on the evidence of the army's autonomy.
Chapter 3: Rifts
· The first major disagreement between military officers was the role of the War Ministry and staff versus the army and its general staff. Fritsch and Beck resented Hitler's attempts to control the army.
· The issue was escalated by the fact that Germany's scarce resources needed to be divided between the army, air force and navy—Lebensraum was eventually devised to obtain resources.
· The Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (which ousted them both) demonstrated Hitler's power and result in his absorbing the power of the War Ministry.
· Changes in the foreign ministry allowed Hitler to appoint Ribbentrop as his puppet, though others worked through Ribbentrop to influence Hitler as well.
Chapter 4: Conflict
· After several efforts to keep the Austrian Nazis in order (since as early as 1934), Hitler intervenes in Austria. He is fortunate that a changed relationship with Mussolini allowed him to do this. Hitler thus took Austria without resistance and declared Anschluss.
· Hitler's connections with the Sudeten Nazis in Czechoslovakia, the wish to take Czechoslovakia before the Czechs had time to prepare, the reassurance that Mussolini would not react and confidence that England and France would not want to be involved solidified Hitler's intentions to invade Czechoslovakia.
Chapter 5: Clashes
· Hitler decides upon "lightening-fast action."
· Generals, especially Beck, still disagreed with Hitler, believing that England and France had more military power than Germany (Beck alone was vocal about this).
· Hitler arranged to have Beck step down.
Chapter 6: War!
· With Beck gone, Weizsäcker continued to worry about an invasion by England and France as a result of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. He tried to find new ways of taking Czechoslovakia (e.g., through internal strife) and tried to use his influence in Britain, resulting at first in the Czech plebiscite.
· Hitler's thoughts on what to do went back and forth, following meetings with Chamberlain.
· All along, Weizsäcker believed that Hitler was influenced by Ribbentrop.
· Hitler made the responsibility of high-ranking officers well known, discouraged opposition and, ultimately, coerced the Czech president into allowing Germany to take Czechoslovakia as a protectorate.
· When Hitler announced his intentions to invade Poland, few doubted him. Halder still opposed the move, but he never openly opposed Hitler. At the same time, he was aware of plots to overthrow Hitler but chose not to take part in them.
· Weizsäcker meanwhile came to understand that Hitler was not under Ribbentrop's influence.
· England and France declared war on Germany as a result of its invasion of Poland.
Chapter 7: Hitler
· In this chapter, May analyses Hitler in order to understand his assumptions and the background that formed his ideas. He traces Hitler's concept of Lebensraum back to Hitler's early ideas of ethnic superiority, his poor Austrian Waldviertel origins and his experience in World War I (which were positive for Hitler). Hitler felt that war unified people—and its loss was as a result of the betrayal of Marxists, Jews, etc.
· Hitler's attitudes toward the state and masses were also formulated by the end of World War I; he also developed early on oratorical skills and the ability to manipulate group emotion.
· After he came to power, Hitler received much of his information from foreign press clippings and possibly, too, from movies. Intelligence and testimony from foreign visitors was also important.
· Goebbels controlled the media within Germany and had a lot of contact with Hitler.
· Göring, likewise, had a lot of communication with Hitler and may have deluded him about the strength of the Germany air force and economy. Meanwhile, it's likely that he underestimated the strength of England's and France's militaries. Hitler was, nonetheless, a master of assessing public opinion and situations abroad.
PART TWO: THE WESTERN ALLIES
Chapter 8: Daladier
· May devotes this chapter to analyzing Daladier and the things that influenced him.
· Daladier's experiences in World War I left the opposite impression on him as the War did on Hitler.
· At the same time, his early experiences left him highly concerned about public opinion: the Depression had split France ideologically. In the face of this, Daladier's early short stint as prime minister (and the political unrest that put an end to it), made him ever nervous of inciting public demonstrations.
· As Prime Minister and Minister of War from 1936 to 1938, Daladier sought to build the French military. Though he was short on manpower, using reservists and slow to militarize, however, his efforts were largely successful.
Chapter 9: Gamelin
· In this chapter, May examines General Gamelin: he is seen as confident and certain that willpower and intelligence are the most important things to take into battle.
· It is easy to see even at this point the political initiative behind Gamelin's actions. He even concealed his religiosity and criticism of the republic.
· Daladier didn't necessarily trust Gamelin; however, he and Gamelin were dependent upon one another for their common military agenda.
· The French secret service, the Deuxième Bureau's Service des Renseignements, also influenced Daladier. This intelligence emphasized the growing power of Germany. These messages reinforced those that Daladier received from Gamelin and justified the military spending of which he and Gamelin were in favor.
Chapter 10: Cross-Currents
· Not wanting to oppose public opinion or instigate something with Gamelin, Daladier decided not to move the army unless it was prepared for actual combat (just in case Hitler took them up on their offer to fight).
· Daladier and Gamelin continued to focus on rearmament, rather than readiness. Besides actively advising against action (e.g., calling up reservists), Gamelin may even have withheld intelligence information that would have made some preparations seem necessary.
· Daladier's foreign ministry gave opposing opinions; however, all in the government converged in their belief that Hitler would want to compromise for the sake of international order. They not only misjudged Hitler's intentions, but also his means for making decisions.
Chapter 11: To Munich
· Though the Germans thought that the French and English acquiescence of German military action would continue after the Anschluss, the Anschluss set off a new train of thought in France and England. Nonetheless, in the early stages, opinion varied on how to react.
· Daladier remained under the presumption that France and England could stop Germany by having a unified voice, as in the May Crisis.
· However, fluctuating between Légere's and Bonnet's views (and more) left France from having a clear stance.
· What's more, Chamberlain didn't communicate well Britain's intentions to Daladier, so there was no real unified voice. Daladier's cabinet continued to be divided and reports of how France's military compared with Germany's were glum.
Chapter 12: Chamberlain
· May analyzes Chamberlain in this chapter, showing that he was more active and resolute than Daladier, and that he used the media to strong effect.
· His policies were arms build up and appeasement. Germany was considered England's primary enemy, and Chamberlain sought to keep his military build up in line with Hitler's; but his preparations for war were on a five-year plan.
· The Anschluss bothered Chamberlain. However, he could not conceive of anyone wanting war, thus he did not believe that Hitler did. However, he did think that Hitler's grievances with the Treaty if Versailles were justified.
· He considered England unified with France, but recognized France's conflicting messages. He thus did not believe that France meant the threats of war it gave over Czechoslovakia.
· Chamberlain only changed his mind in regards to Czechoslovakia under pressure from his cabinet.
Chapter 13: Enough!
· Bonnet's efforts to seek a Franco-German treaty ended in failure due to misinterpretations (intentional or not) that led Germany to believe that France had no interest in Eastern Europe.
· Meanwhile, the Deuxième Bureau had suspicions, such as that Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a pact; also that Italy would attempt a German-backed crisis.
· Daladier's attempt to increase industrial production resulted in strikes, more disagreement within his cabinet and resistance from the legislative chambers.
· However, by the spring of 1939, public opinion in France had shifted. Similar changes in public opinion occurred in England, and France and England were in a similar, more resolute mind in regard to a war with Germany.
Chapter 14: Accepting War
· Chamberlain and Daladier were in agreement on the importance of making Hitler see the balance of military power (as a means of avoiding war). Deterrence was pursued, such as conscription and attempts to align with Stalin. But Germany beat them to this second with the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
· France and England attempted to find a peaceful solution, even going so far as to accept Mussolini's offer to mediate.
· In the end, Chamberlain's government pressured him into declaring war; Daladier followed his lead.
· Despite being told otherwise (especially in France), the French and English governments believed that their militaries were superior to Hitler's, and they were correct. According to May, German equipment was inferior.
· Finally, public opinion demanded war, especially in Britain. May used a variety of evidence, including the themes of popular films, to make this argument.
PART THREE: PLAN YELLOW
Chapter 15: Now France?
· Many of Hitler's generals considered opposing him. Movements to overthrow him were supported at a high level.
· His generals had tried to talk him out of the offensives, but they weren't successful.
· The plans to overthrow Hitler were stopped, however, due to Hitler's suspicions, the generals' belief that they wouldn't succeed and the generals' fear that the troops would not follow in a rebellion against the head of state.
· They attempted delaying invasions, while groups in the Abwehr leaked information to the Allies.
· Because of changing plans, Hitler's generals always had to prepare and rethink another impending offensive (as opposed to what was going on in France and England).
Chapter 16: Not Defeat?
· The Germans fashioned a plans: one for attack and another in case the Allies attacked. All of the plan's drafters believed that their contribution led to its success. Though May describes it as a collective achievement, he highlights Hitler's role in bringing it in line with Guderian's operational concepts.
Chapter 17: Intelligence
· It is difficult to gauge the usefulness of the Forschungsamt's contributions (as the files were largely destroyed). Many communications were intercepted, but human intelligence was of greater initial value and aerial reconnaissance of greatest value throughout.
· France and England's early preparations after learning of Hitler's plans were also useful to the Germans in predicting how England and France would respond to an attack.
· The German generals formulated ideas off of a collection of intelligence. They blended these with open-source information, such as the work of Foreign Armies West.
· German army intelligence was less concerned about an attack by England and France, but the Abwehr was.
Chapter 18: Gamble
· The Germans worked off of ideas they formulated from the intelligence reports and their prior knowledge of France and England, such as the fact that France's cautiousness slowed its military's action. They used these prior experiences to examine the British, the Belgians, etc.
· The generals enacted war games with these things in mind, thus identifying what their issues and obstacles were/could be. This is also how they concluded on the attack through the Ardennes. It was effective because France and England did not expect it. Though later games cast doubt on this plan and revealed potential transportation problems, it is what they eventually used.
· Besides making actual attack plans, the Germans worked on deceptive plans, which they planted; nonetheless, the generals were still not confident of success.
PART FOUR: THE DEMOCRACIES' PREPARATION FOR VICTORY
Chapter 19: War but Not War
· Meanwhile, the French had done little to plan. Gamelin believed that a commander should adapt to circumstances as they arise. Even his promise to assist the Polish was vague.
· May describes a lack of communication between the English and the French and a delay in their working together, followed by Gamelin's excuses for inaction. In the end, the plans that were drawn were simply filed away.
· Gamelin felt confident that French and English troops were growing stronger and that Germany might collapse from within, making waiting to fight seem logical; Daladier agreed.
· May contends that France may have won and ended the war if they had conducted an offensive in 1939; however, they did not, things went poorly in Poland and the Soviets moved into the territory Hitler gave them.
· In anticipation of a German move toward France, the French pulled back their Saarland offensive.
· Gamelin continued for a time to consider German movements as defensive, though evidence and intelligence indicated otherwise. By the time he recognized them for what they were, the Germans called them off (as has been detailed in previous chapters).
· Gamelin arrogantly concluded that Germany simply wasn't ready to attack (not considering what else might have been happening within the ranks to cause the delay). He thought that Germany might instead try to use subversive methods within France (thus suddenly, the French were investing energy into what was happening domestically, rather that keeping an eye on intelligence from Germany).
Chapter 20: "The Bore War"
· The new focus of intelligence became the German economy, predicting that Germany might collapse before attack.
· Gamelin speculated that Germany could attack through the Ardennes and was concerned about the weakness of troops there. He nonetheless discounted the Ardennes, taking German action in Poland as a model for what they would do in France.
· Chamberlain took the evidence to mean that the Germans would use long-range bombers; Gamelin thought it'd be a "war of movement."
· The three common presumptions between France and England were that the Germans would: 1) use Blitzkrieg, 2) use the 5th column and 3) use tactics that should not be met head on.
· Daladier and Gamelin were certain that the Germans would come through Belgium but weren't able to get the Belgians to plan with them. The Belgian policy was nonalignment, a political move on the part of King Leopold, and his neutrality was militant.
· However, when Belgium's Colonel Delvoie came to meet with Gamelin, Gamelin gave vague answers to his questions—largely because Gamelin had no set plan, only suggestions.
Chapter 21: The Dyle-Breda Plan
· England and France planned a false publicity campaign that would show them cooperating and give Germany the sense that they had a plan. However, the meetings between the two were largely unproductive.
· England was slow to get troops to the continent, 1) out of caution for submarines and 2) because Chamberlain expected an air war and didn't want to move troops so quickly out of England
· England, France and Belgium worked on a compromise, with England and France intending to enter Belgium; but Belgium still refused to let them do so, even though they believed that Germany would soon attack (given that they had intercepted the plan following the crash of a German plane in Belgium—the Mechelen event).
· This focus on Belgium continued even after Hitler didn't attack in 1939. The Allies never considered that Hitler may have changed his plan.
Chapter 22: Distractions
· Daladier had worked to form a national government, but by the fall of 1939 he felt that he was losing power. His relationship with Gamelin was particularly strained, as Daladier needed manpower for industrial production and Gamelin men as soldiers.
· Daladier saw, at the same time, that a war on the western front might end in stalemate. He felt that the Soviet attack on Finland provided him a political opportunity—war against Germany and the Soviet Union for a cause and, finally, action, as opposed to the strain of waiting to be attacked. It would also cut Germany off from raw materials in Sweden.
· Daladier mistakenly thought he had England's support. He didn't—at least not on the scale or schedule he'd hoped. What's more, Sweden and Norway refused to allow troop movements, and Finland signed a peace with the Soviet Union before France could get involved. This was the beginning of Daladier's fall to Reynaud.
Chapter 23: Stumbles
· Reynaud criticized Daladier for his inaction, but he used Daladier and Léger's plans. Churchill was receptive to Reynaud's proposal, where Chamberlain had previously not been. However, as Minister of Defense, Daladier now vetoed parts of these plans.
· The Germans quickly moved into Denmark and Norway, surprising the French and English.
· Chamberlain had earlier cancelled the move into this region. Having lost support, he stepped down and Churchill became Prime Minister.
· Germany attacked the low countries and France on May 10.
· The debates in early 1940 about opening another front caused England and France to ignore their original plan for the western front—when it should have been reevaluated.
Chapter 24: Intelligence Failure
· There had been clear signals of Germany's plan, but flawed systems of collecting and communicating intelligence kept France and England from acting on these signals. They had also failed to examine the process of German decision-making.
· The estimates of German forces were exaggerated, also due to flawed process. The recipients of the intelligence were able to interpret numbers in accordance with their agendas.
· Understanding German operational intentions was also very poor. May's research shows how great of an oversight there was in not better defending the Ardennes.
Chapter 25: The Reasons Why
· May attributes the failures described in the previous chapter to individuals, organizations, doctrine and culture.
· People and organizations didn't communicate and work together as they should, especially due to France's complicated military structure.
· The French placed the full responsibility of analysis on (arrogant) generals, leaving the intelligence experts to data collection alone.
· May sees culture as possibly the greatest weakness. Neither the French nor the English dedicated time to understanding German culture. Within France's government, there was no joint analytical work going on between intelligence and the generals. At the same time, intelligence agents knew nothing of military plans.
Chapter 26: The Dam Breaks
· The French government was in turmoil during Germany's offensive. Gamelin had been working on the relationship with Belgium, but made no gains. The French started to move into Belgium only to meet with resistance and have to pull back.
· From here Reynaud proposed opening new fronts, but the English feared that the next attack would be on England, not France. England and France also debated about Yugoslavia, bombing of the Ruhr and the Breda Plan.
· Reynaud eventually denounced Gamelin, but when he was opposed by Daladier, he stepped down and left to try to form his own government.
PART FIVE: THE WAR—A PARABLE?
Chapter 27: Battle!
· The Belgians finally invited French and British troops into Belgium—after the Germans had started to attack.
· In the days that followed all along the front, the French were not outnumbered but in the wrong place, and the poorly trained troops were left to face the Germans.
· The French and British troops were also too slow to deploy and instructions complicated.
· Events in Belgium did not play out according to France's plans, mainly because the Belgians had failed to hold back the Germans for more than a day, much less the four days on which they'd planned. Important communications regarding troop movements had been sent from Belgium to Paris but had not made it to the appropriate people. Georges left for Belgium to deal personally with matters but was then absent on the third day of fighting.
· Meanwhile, the Germans began their second major offensive into the Ardennes.
Chapter 28: "Hitch" at Sedan
· If the war had been fought as the French had anticipated, they may have won that day and ended the war.
· Not protecting the Ardennes wasn't the end of their errors. For instance, Corap had requested more men and equipment. Not only did he not receive any, but the poor French-Belgian communication meant that he and his troops would not have the Belgian Chasseurs Ardennais as backup, as the French had planned. At the same time, Huntziger's poorly trained troops would have to fight hard alone.
· Reynaud called Churchill on May 15 to report France's defeat.
Chapter 29: Plan Yellow Plays Out
· Things had not gone entirely as planned on the German side either. The Dutch, for instance, had not responded as anticipated. But in the end, luck had been on the side of the Germans.
· Besides not targeting the right places, the French missed opportunities to get the advantage, such as in the use of intelligence and the reluctance to bomb beyond its lines (all as detailed in earlier chapters).
· The French were also surprised by the Germans crossing of the Meuse (at first without heavy artillery). The Allied air attacks didn't stop the tanks, which eventually were also able to cross the Meuse.
· Panic among some of the French troops followed but was quickly under control. May will also detail how panic among the German troops occurred at points as well.
Chapter 30: France Falls
· German troops moved into France and toward Paris, but were halted twice by Hitler. Whereas he had begun the offensive taking risks, it seems he grew more cautious later.
· Reynaud finally succeeded in replacing Gamelin (with Wayland) on May 19.
· The British and some of the French retreated to England, and Belgium surrendered.
· When the United States refused to enter the war, Reynaud resigned and Pétain took his place.
Conclusion: Why? And What Can Be Learned?
· May concludes that France fell because of military defeat, not because it was already weak. Likewise, it did not fall because of cowardice on the part of soldiers.
· The problems were with communication and, on some level, doctrine of the military.
· Though Germany's successes (such as its troops' ability to cross the Meuse) contributed to its victory, they alone did not win the offensive. Success was in large part due to the surprise plan and Germany's ability to predict the course the French would take.
· May concludes that the following points determined the direction the war would take:
1) The value of decision making on both sides
2) The Allies poor understanding of Germany and Hitler
3) Hitler's err when he thought France would allow him to invade Poland
4) That the Allies could have defeated Germany if they had acted sooner
5) The French and British over-confidence
6) That Hitler's generals considered overthrowing him
7) That if Germany had attacked in January 1940, it'd have lost
8) The entanglement of French plans with politics
9) The faultiness of French and English intelligence analysis and communication
10) The efficiency of German executive judgment