England - Periods - WorldWar II 1939-1945

France

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Denmark and Norway had been quickly overrun by German forces in the previous few months and now at the beginning of May 1940 the phony war on the Western Front along the German/French, Belgium, Dutch boarder was about to explode with the next Blitzkrieg. The British Government was in turmoil with a loss in faith in Prime Minister Chamberlain by the Labour Party and many in his own Conservative party. Political currents were swirling and change was in the air. In France, the much-awaited German offensive was about to begin and the deep rot of the French Government and Military establishment paralyzed their ability to react or resist the experienced German military machine.

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The French planning finally come to terms with England and Belgium on a course of action which would counter the expectant German drive through Belgium by sending British and French forces quickly into Belgium and establishing a defensive line along the rivers and canals of Belgium and France. This was known as the Dyle Plan and would hopefully stop the Germans in their tracks and when on May 10th the German attack began as expected into Belgium the Allied forces began to move to their positions in Belgium. On that same day, Prime Minister Chamberlain of Great Britain was replaced by Winston Churchill, rather then Lord Halifax, after a soul-searching process.

On May 12th, the second and unexpected part of the German plan began. The major attack on France was launched across the Meuse River near Sedan by 10 German Panzer divisions just north of the mighty French fortified structure know as the Maginot Line. By May 14h the Germans had managed to breakout and under Panzer Generals such as Guderian and Rommel, began a dash across Northern France, south of the French and British forces which had rumbled in their defensive positions in Belgium. This sudden thrust across France threatened to cut off the allied forces in Belgium and isolate them in a large pocket where they might be forces to surrender. The French military commander, General Maurice-Gustave Gamelin became paralysed and held no reserves to counter this action and was replaced by General Maxime Weygand on May 20th. The French Government faltered and quickly lost hope of holding out.

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The Prime Minister of France phoned Churchill at 7:30 on the morning of May 15th.

"M. Reynaud was on the telephone at my bedside. He spoke in English, and evidently under stress. "We have been defeated," As I did not immediately respond he said again, "We are beaten; we have lost the battle." I said, "Surely it can't have happened so soon?" But he replied, "The front is broken near Sedan; they are pouring through in great numbers with tanks and armoured cars" - or words to that effect" (SOURCE- Their Finest Hour, Winston Churchill, 1949, THE RIVERSIDE PRESS)

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The British and French forces who had rushed into Belgium with such high hopes, were forced to start falling back towards to coast and to the south, where the Panzer forces rebuffed their attempts to break through around Vimy, to the main French forces to the south. The Germans reached the French coast and captured Boulogne and then Calais and although Churchill had ordered the British forces to move towards Dunkirk for possible evacuation it seemed that they would be trapped. Over 300,000 British troops would be either killed or captured which was the bulk of the English army and with this loss, it would leave England virtually undefended.

The Battle of France was substantially over and England’s defeat was also in sight. The British and substantial French forces were trapped with their backs to the sea at the Port of Dieppe with the Panzers and the Luftwaffe ready to attack and annihilate them.

Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2016

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