Fall Of France Pt 3

With the French elite units heavily engaged in Belgium, the main weight of the German attack fell upon Sedan, farther south than the Allied commanders thought likely. Screened by the Ardennes forest, an armoured assault here was thought unlikely as the terrain would hamper the use of tanks.

Someone forgot to tell the Germans this, however. After eight hours of continuous bombardment of French positions around Sedan by the Luftwaffe, the Grossdeutschland Division was the first to go into battle. Despite initial fierce resistance it became clear very quickly that French morale had been broken by the very heavy aerial bombardment. That night, with heavy fighting on the bridgeheads, the French defences at the Bulson ridge ten kilometres behind the front were panicked by a false report that German panzers were somehow behind them, the ensuing rout was particularly serious as the panic involved the divisional artillery, thus putting the crossing points beyond the reach of French guns.

The next morning the Germans were in possession of three critical bridges over the Meuse. Every available Allied light bomber was scrambled to attempt to destroy them - despite the highest casualty rate ever recorded in the history of the British and French air forces, they failed to do so. So badly mauled was the French Armee de l'Air, that in subsequent days of fighting only a handful of machines were available to attempt stem the flood of panzers.

With the bridges forced, Guderian and Rommel both disobeyed their direct orders and pressed on to the west, as fast as they could manage, pressing on at least fifty miles in the first day alone, Rommel advancing so quickly that he passed beyond radio contact with his superiors, earning his 7th Panzer Division the nickname of "Gespentzer Division", or Ghost Division.

The Panzer Corps were then forced to slow their advance. Lack of fuel and breakdowns were beginning to wear on their units. A decisive Allied response could still yet turn the tide of the battle, but the French high command were in a state of shock and horror at the sudden offensive and defeatism was in the air. On the 15th of May the French prime minister Paul Reynaud telephoned Winston Churchill to inform him, "We are defeated. We are beaten, we have lost the battle.". Despite Churchills best efforts, Reynaud was inconsolable.

The next day Churchill flew to Paris to inspect the situation in person, and soon saw that matters were grave indeed. The French government was burning its archives and preparing to move. In a sombre meeting, Churchill asked the French commander, General Gamelin, "Ou est la masse de manoeuvre?" ("Where is the strategic reserve?"), that had saved Paris in World War 1. "Aucune" ("There is none.") Gamelin replied. Later, Churchill described hearing this as the single most shocking moment in his life. Churchill asked Gamelin when and where the general proposed to launch a counterattack against the flanks of the German bulge. Gamelin simply replied "inferiority of numbers, inferiority of equipment, inferiority of methods".

Gamelin had over committed in the north. Some of the best French units had barely seen action, but they had lost much fighting power simply by advancing into Belgium. They were ordered to hurry back, but this cost them even more, as breakdowns and the need to refuel took their toll on the French vehicles. The most powerful Allied division, the 1st DLM (Division Legere Mechanique) had moved forward 140 miles from Dunkirk to deep into Holland in under 32 hours. Finding that the Dutch had already capitulated by the time they reached their destination, they retreated all the way back again, by which time of the division's starting 80 Somua light tanks, only 3 were left operational, almost all due to breakdowns.

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