Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 4

Home History Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 4

Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 4

Case Study: From The Manchurian Incident to World War II Part 4

Today, on 30 Sept., the Munich Agreement was signed and is generally accepted as the cause of the Second World War. However, as we are arguing, the conventional chronology of WWII from 1939-45 is no longer helpful. WWII must now be understood as a global event since the Asian and Pacific theatres were as important as the European ones and possibly more so in their consequences.

As we have seen in part one, the standard “road to war” and Manchurian crisis explain that Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 strained relations with the United States, a situation aggravated by the empire’s invasion of China in 1937, and then brought to a breaking point in 1941 by Japan’s advance into southern Indo­china. Plus, as we have seen in the last three parts, the conventional chronology of WWII as from 1939–45 is no longer helpful, and that the war must be understood as a global event since the Asian and Pacific theatres were as important as the European one, and possibly more so in their consequences.

The war in the West

The declaration of war in September 1939 utterly altered the nature of the confrontations of the 1930s. Hitler saw his war with Poland as a limited war for German living space justified, in his eyes, by the prior existence of large European empires that had been won not very long before at the point of the sword. When he made a ‘peace offer’ to the democracies on 6 October, a week after the Polish surrender, he jibed at states that accused him of wanting world power for taking a few hundred thousand square kilometers of land when they ruled 40 million worldwide.1 Britain and France, on the other hand, saw the conflict as a struggle against the new wave of violent empire-building, and even though they were not yet at war with Italy and Japan, their view of the crisis was genuinely global. They had to hope that war with Germany would not encourage either of the other two states to take advantage of their distraction in Europe, just as they had to expect that the Soviet Union would not take advantage of its Pact with Germany to exert its pressure on their overstretched empires. At the same time, they looked for moral support from the United States and the active provision of men, money, and supplies from their empires. The future shape of the Second World War was determined not by German ambition in Eastern Europe, which had triggered the conflict, but by the Anglo-French declaration on 3 September. From the German perspective, the war had been forced on Germany by external forces. In a broadcast to the German people the following day, Hitler blamed not the democracies for the state of war that Germany now faced but the ‘Jewish-democratic international enemy’ who had harried them into fighting.2 For Hitler, the war was now to be two wars: one against the imperial enemies of the Reich, one against the Jews.

What followed the British and French declarations of war was entirely different from 1914, when millions of men were in action, with high numbers of casualties, from the opening days of the conflict. Britain and France knew that Germany was too embroiled in the Polish campaign to launch an attack in the West, but neither state had any interest in actively supporting Polish resistance. The two allies had already privately agreed that Poland could not be saved; the French commander-in-chief, General Maurice Gamelin, had made a little promise to the Poles that France would attack fifteen days after mobilization. On 10 September, Gamelin told the Polish military attaché that half his armies were against the German Saarland, but it was not valid. A handful of French units had moved forward 8 kilometers, killed 196 Germans, and then retreated.3 Gamelin told the writer André Maurois that he would ‘not begin the war by a Battle of Verdun,’ flinging infantry at German fortifications. He planned what he called a ‘scientific war,’ consistent with French army doctrine.4 The almost complete inactivity in the West (the first British soldier was killed in action on 9 December after treading on a French landmine) fuelled Hitler’s pre-war hope that the Allied declaration of war was ‘merely a sham’ and that the West was, as Albert Speer recalled in his memoirs, ‘too feeble, too worn out, and too decadent for a fight.5 In the first weeks of the Polish war, he ordered extreme restraint on the Western front believing that he could finish in Poland quickly and present Britain and France with a fait accompli. 

Hitler was nevertheless anxious that German forces should not simply sit on the defensive once victory over Poland had been achieved. On 8 September, he mooted the idea of an autumn offensive in the West for the first time. On the eve of the Polish capitulation, on 26 September, he hosted a meeting of army and air force commanders at which he stressed that time was on the Allies’ side to build up their forces in France by the summer of 1940 and that an early strike at France through the Low Countries would unhinge the ill-prepared enemy, secure air and naval bases to strike at Britain, and protect the vulnerable Ruhr industrial region from Allied incursions and bombing. The plan was issued on 9 October as War Directive no. 6 for ‘Fall Gelb’ (‘Case Yellow’). Still, in the interim, Hitler made the first of several attempts to get the Allies to accept Poland’s hopeless position, divided between the German and Soviet dictatorships.6 His speech on 6 October had a mixed reception in the West, where there was still a lobby in favor of realistic compromise. Daladier told Chamberlain to ignore it – ‘pass over Herr Hitler in silence’ – but the British spent days working out a response. Winston Churchill, now first lord of the admiralty, wanted a draft that left the door open to ‘any genuine offer,’ and the final version, while rejecting any idea that aggression could be condoned, did give Hitler the improbable option of abandoning his conquests without penalty.7 The effect of the rebuttal was to transform Britain in the eyes of the German leadership into the principal enemy bent, as Hitler informed the naval commander-in-chief, ‘on the extermination of Germany.’ Goebbels ordered the German press to cease their portrayal of Chamberlain as a helpless and risible figure and to present him instead as a ‘vicious old man.’8 

Once Hitler had decided that a quick offensive in the West was the safest option, army leaders tried their hardest to dissuade him. The Polish campaign showed that more training, enhanced equipment, and serious thinking about battlefield tactics were necessary before risking a confrontation with the French army, aside from the need to rest and regroup. A study by the army chief of operations, Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, suggested postponing a major campaign until 1942.9 Hitler remained obdurate and set a date for an offensive between 20 and 25 October. The weather played into the army leaders’ hands. The winter of 1939–40 was to be the worst of the century. The invasion date was postponed to 12 November, again to 12 December, and once more to 1 January 1940, then finally to an unspecified date in the spring. In the meantime, the plan changed its shape. In October, Hitler had second thoughts about a direct assault across the flat north European plain; he wondered instead about concentrating the armored divisions for a strike from further south, but no new plan was settled, reflecting Hitler’s uncertainty. The chief of staff of Army Group A, Colonel Erich von Manstein, also believed that a decisive blow could be struck by concentrating German armor further south to break through to encircle enemy forces as they advanced into Belgium – the so-called ‘sickle-cut plan.’ His seniors disregarded his ideas, and von Manstein himself was redeployed to the East as a commander of an army corps still in the formation process to keep him quiet. When secret details of the original ‘Case Yellow’ plan fell into Allied hands following the forced landing of a German courier plane in Belgium on 10 January, Hitler and the army high command faced further uncertainty about the direction of attack. By chance, von Manstein’s views were relayed to Hitler by his military adjutant, and on 17 February, the colonel was invited to present his plan in person in Berlin. Hitler was captivated by it and ordered a new directive; by the time the campaign was ready in May 1940, the ‘sickle-cut’ was in place.10

On the Allied side, the only certainty was that war had been declared. Every other calculation was edged with uncertainty. Hopes for Polish resistance for months rather than weeks evaporated. Still, since Anglo-French planning was based on a long war, in which Germany would eventually be brought to defeat – as in 1918 – by economic shortages, widespread disaffection, and a final military confrontation, there was a less evident need for urgent action, even with the German army now free to turn West. Allied intelligence and common sense suggested that Germany would not be ready to mount an offensive until 1940 at the earliest, if not later. However, there were regular scares in the late autumn. The French high command viewed such an offensive very much on the lines of the original German plan. The Maginot Line would force the enemy to invade on a narrow and defensible front somewhere in Belgium, where his forces would be either defeated or bottled up. The Allies believed that time was on their side as they slowly built up the military forces and economic resources necessary.11 A Supreme War Council, composed of military and civilian leaders, was established in early September 1939 to formalize Franco-British collaboration, as it had been in 1918. The experience of the Great War colored Allied thinking about how best to wage a new one. In November, ‘making full use of the experience gained in the years 1914–1918’, the Allies announced that they would co-ordinate communications, munitions, oil supply, food, shipping, and economic warfare against Germany.12 

The military collaboration proved a more vexed question. Still, after several months of uncertainty, Gamelin insisted that British units in France would be under the command of General Alphonse Georges, commander-in-chief of the northeast front in France. In November, Gamelin drew up the Allied operational plan, which consisted of advancing into Belgium to defend a line along either the Escaut River or the Dyle. Gamelin finally opted for the Dyle Plan because it promised to protect the significant French industrial region in the northeast, despite the risk that it would take eight days to reach the river before a solid defensive line could be constructed. The small British Expeditionary Force would be among the armies moving into Belgium. The stumbling block was Belgian neutrality, for, in 1936, the Belgian government had abrogated a Franco-Belgian defense treaty and stubbornly refused, right through to the moment when German soldiers crossed the frontier, to hold joint staff talks or to allow the Allies to enter Belgian soil to avoid any danger that their neutrality might be compromised.13 As a result, the Dyle Plan would have to be activated hurriedly, if at all. Gamelin stuck to it nonetheless, convinced that a methodical offensive/defensive strategic line in neutral Belgium remained the best French option. The German plans that fell into Allied hands in January 1940 did not suggest a rethink but instead reinforced the view that creating a Belgian front had been the right choice.14

The long period of relative inactivity, now known as the Phoney War, was certainly not free of problems. Popular opinion needed evidence of military success to sustain a temporary domestic alliance in favor of a firm declaration of war. Instead, complained the French journal Revue des Deux Mondes, ‘Paix-Guerre’ had simply been replaced by ‘Guerre-Paix’; the New York Times carried the headline in October 1939 ’38 

Victory over Poland came with a cost for both Germany and the Soviet Union

While the defeat of Poland and the Hitler peace offer in October had strengthened those circles, chiefly on the Philo-fascist right or the pacifist left, that favored a compromise peace, but there was evidence of more widespread disillusionment with the war. British Gallup Polls in October 1939 and February 1940 found a rising proportion of respondents in favor of peace talks: 29 percent against the earlier 17 percent.16

The large Allied forces mobilized in the winter of 1939-40 to sit on the French frontier in freezing temperatures also found it hard to maintain any enthusiasm for a war that seemed remote from their bleak and demoralizing daily routine. The French philosopher and front-line soldier, Jean-Paul Sartre, lamented that all he and his companions did was eat, sleep and avoid the cold: ‘that’s it … one is exactly like the animals’. A British conscript marooned in a frozen billet felt like ‘drama had given way to farce.’17 

Despite the efforts to pick up the threads of collaboration from the previous conflict, there remained a residue of mistrust between the two sides, not least because the French government and high command wondered whether Britain was sufficiently committed to a land war for the defense of France. The British decision to keep forces and equipment in crucial empire areas ran against the French intention of recruiting substantial colonial troops for service in France. It became clear from the start of Anglo-French discussions that the rate at which the British Expeditionary Force could be built up was too slow to meet a German assault sometime in 1940. French mobilized forces amounted to eighty-four divisions, with twenty-three fortress divisions to man the Maginot Line. Since French intelligence calculated (wrongly) that the Germans could field 175 divisions, there was a wide gap to make good.18 The British contribution was distorted by the priority given to the air force and navy during the 1930s and the relative neglect of the army. The British military had sent only five divisions to France after almost four months of the war; a further eight underequipped Territorial Army divisions arrived by the German invasion. The first and only British armored division joined the battle after it had already begun. The most that the British Chiefs of Staff would offer was a 32-division army by the end of 1941, at the earliest.19 Air support for the campaign in France was also minimal. The build-up of fighter and bomber aircraft in the late 1930s was designed to defend the British Isles and create a bomber force to retaliate against German attacks. The RAF was reluctant to abandon this strategic profile, with the result that the great majority of British aircraft remained in Britain. By May 1940, there were around 250 operational RAF aircraft in France, little more than the 184 aircraft in the Belgian air force.20 

Though the preparations for actual combat presupposed that Germany would be the principal enemy at some point, there was no certainty about what would happen on the broader world now that a state of war existed. The position of Italy was challenging to judge once it was clear that Mussolini’s declaration of ‘non-belligerence’ in September 1939 (a term chosen because it seemed less demeaning to the Axis alliance than ‘neutrality’) was severe. The French navy had begun the war by imposing a blockade on Italian trade. Still, on 15 September, it was lifted in return for economic agreements that saw Italian aircraft, aero-engines, and Fiat trucks supplied to the French armed forces in return for foreign exchange and raw materials (though Mussolini refused to provide aircraft for Britain). Count Ciano told the French ambassador, ‘Winsome victories, and we shall be on your side.’21 The British did reinforce the Suez garrison and build up stocks for a possible second theatre of war. The Allies treated Mussolini as an opportunist for whom the opportunity was not yet sufficiently inviting.22 The position of Japan was also inconclusive. Japanese forces in southern China put increasing pressure on the French and British empires during the summer of 1939 to close all trade with southern China, and after the outbreak of the European war, the noose tightened. French and British forces were withdrawn from the enclave at Tianjin, and the Royal Navy China Squadron moved to Singapore. The Japanese sealed off Hong Kong, and Chinese vessels trying to ply from the colony were periodically shelled and sunk by the Japanese navy. The British had no desire for an all-out war with Japan, but Allied interests in China survived in 1939–40 only because of continued Chinese resistance.23 

The most dangerous uncertainty was the attitude of the Soviet Union. From the German-Soviet Pact in August 1939, the two Allied powers began to treat the Soviet Union as a potential enemy and the pact as a virtual alliance. Stalin, it is now known, did hope that the deal would create a new ‘equilibrium’ in Europe around a Soviet-German axis. ‘This collaboration,’ he told Ribbentrop, ‘represents a power that all other combinations must give way to.’24 The Allies assumed the worst following the Soviet invasion and occupation of eastern Poland and subsequent pressure on the Baltic States to allow Soviet forces on their territory for protection. Chamberlain and Daladier were deeply hostile to communism and anxious lest the war against Germany might tempt the Soviet Union to move towards the Middle East or the Asian empires. In October, the British embassy in Moscow sent a lengthy report analyzing the possibility of war with the Soviet Union. Though the British Chiefs of Staff remained opposed to risking any broader conflict, it remained within the realm of Allied contingencies.25 When on 30 November, the Soviet Union attacked Finland after the Finnish government had rejected requests to cede bases to Soviet military forces, there was a wave of indignant protest across Britain and France. Their ambassadors were withdrawn from Moscow, and on 14 December, the two states took the lead in expelling the Soviet Union from the League of Nations. In London, blasted by a ferocious anti-Soviet press campaign, the Soviet ambassador, Ivan Maisky, asked himself the question, ‘who is the No.1 enemy? Germany or the USSR?’26

The Soviet–Finnish war brought Scandinavia unexpectedly into the Second World War. It alerted the Allies to the region’s strategic importance if either the Soviet Union or Germany came to dominate or occupy it. Scandinavia was the source of necessary strategic raw materials – high-grade iron ore in particular – while the Norwegian littoral provided potential air and naval bases for attacks on Britain. Limited military aid was sent to the Finns (175 British and French aircraft, 500 artillery pieces). In contrast, British planners came up with two possible operations, codenamed ‘Avonmouth’ and ‘Stratford,’ approved by the Supreme War Council in February 1940. The first involved sending a small Anglo-French force to the Norwegian port of Narvik that would enter Swedish territory and secure control of the iron-ore mines; the second plan was to send an additional force of three divisions to establish a defensive line in southern Sweden. Neither Norway nor Sweden would agree, and in March, the British War Cabinet vetoed the whole idea despite intense French pressure for military engagement.27 The Finns finally sued for an armistice on 13 March before any Allied plan could be put into effect. Still, the defeat provoked the first of two major political crises for the Allies over the issue of Scandinavia.

Political hostility to Daladier grew during the spring as anti-communists blamed him for not being more active against the Soviet Union. At the same time, the center and left disliked the failure to get to grips with Germany. His reputation was for irresolution. On 20 March, Daladier was forced from office, though he remained minister of defense. His finance minister, Paul Reynaud, whose reputation was starkly opposite – impulsive, active, belligerent. He wrote almost at once to Chamberlain that what was now needed to counteract the psychological and moral impact of the Finnish defeat were ‘bold and prompt’ actions.28

Nevertheless, Reynaud’s preference was for action away from the frontline facing Germany, along lines already suggested under Daladier. He wanted the British to take the lead in Scandinavia by mining the routes used to supply Germany with iron ore. He wanted a combined Anglo-French air force posted to Iraq and Syria to bomb the Soviet oilfields in the Caucasus cut off some of Germany’s oil supply. The Caucasus plan was given more serious attention than it deserved. A British report suggested that three bomber squadrons could knock out the oilfields and ‘paralyze the Soviet war machine,’ a claim for which there was not a shred of evidence. Only the opposition of the British War Cabinet to the inevitable risk of all-out war with the Soviet Union prevented the operation from going ahead.29 On Norway Reynaud was more insistent, but the British wanted to focus on the threat in the West by laying mines along the Rhine to slow down German deployment. The French Cabinet in turn rejected the British proposal for fear that French rivers might be mined in retaliation. The deadlock was finally ended when the British agreed to mine Norwegian waters if the French undertook to accept the Rhine mining later in the year. The date for the mining operation off the Norwegian coast, Operation’ Wilfred’, was fixed for 8 April 1940.30 

The Norwegian operation ended a month later with Chamberlain’s resignation, a victim, like Daladier, of the incompetence of Allied strategy in Scandinavia. Both British and French intelligence failed to provide any serious advance warning of the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, which began on the morning of 9 April. News that a German fleet was heading across the North Sea arrived on the evening of 8 April from the Reuters press agency. German planning for a possible operation in Scandinavia went back many months. A study was ordered on 12 December to see if it was possible, given Germany’s limited naval resources, to occupy Norway and safeguard iron ore flow. Hitler was anxious that Norway should not be occupied by the British. Still, there were also concerns that the Soviet Union might use its aggressive presence in the region to occupy northern Norway. In January, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst was appointed overall commander of a combined naval, air, and army operation was given the codename ‘Weserübung’ (‘Weser Exercise’).31 The German leadership hoped that a political upheaval in Norway prompted by the Norwegian national socialist Vidkun Quisling might make military action unnecessary, but Quisling’s influence was greatly exaggerated. As Allied interest in Scandinavia mounted, Hitler issued the directive for ‘Weserübung’ on 1 March.32 It was a complicated and risky operation at a time when the main axis of German military preparation was in the West, but Hitler gauged the risks of an Allied flank in the north as too great.

On 2 April Hitler ordered the operation to start a week later, and by 8 April, as the first mines were being laid by the British, German submarines, transport vessels, and warships were at sea to support landings at Trondheim and Narvik, while German paratroopers prepared the first operation of its kind against the Norwegian capital, Oslo. On the morning of 9 April German forces crossed the Danish frontier and after a brief exchange of fire, leaving sixteen Danish soldiers dead, the Danish government capitulated. German paratroopers and airborne infantry seized the main airfields in southern Norway, while transport vessels landed troops and supplies along the southern Norwegian coast. Supply by air and sea over the next two months brought 107,000 troops, 20,339 vehicles, and 101,000 tons of supplies to support the invasion. By early May more than 700 aircraft were supporting German operations.33 The German forces soon controlled most of southern and central Norway despite heavier Norwegian resistance than had been expected. Between 15 and 19 April a combined British, French and Polish force was landed at three points along the coast, and briefly took control of Narvik, where the German units were outnumbered. Although German naval casualties were proportionately high (3 cruisers, 10 destroyers, 4 submarines, and 18 transport vessels), the campaign showed the evident strengths of the German armed forces in what turned out to be their only major combined arms operation. Close air support, effective use of artillery and infantry working together, and effective communications, magnified the fighting power of the German forces and demoralized Allied soldiers, most of whom had never seen rugged mountain terrain, let alone fought in it. On 26 April the British abandoned Trondheim; Allied soldiers held on to Narvik until 8 June when the remaining 24,500 were evacuated back to Britain, but German victory in Norway had been assured by the beginning of May at a total cost of 3,692 dead and missing, against Allied fatal losses of 3,761.34

The failure in Norway infuriated Reynaud, who had staked his new premiership on the promise of success. The British, he complained in late April, were ‘old men who do not know how to take a risk’. Popular opinion in Britain swung against Chamberlain as news of the debacle filtered through. Although much of the blame for the poor preparation and execution of the Allied intervention was Churchill’s, as the first lord of the admiralty, the press campaign in early May was directed at the prime minister. The political crisis reached a peak on 8 May when the House of Commons debated on Norway. Chamberlain looked, according to one eyewitness, ‘heartbroken and shrivelled’ as he defended his record through angry exchanges, but a large number of his own supporters voted against him when a division was called by the Labour opposition, and the following day he decided to resign.35 The only Conservative politician with whom the opposition parties would agree to work as Winston Churchill and on 10 May he became head of a new government. Within six weeks both the democracies had experienced a major political crisis over Scandinavia. It is all the more remarkable that the one common belief that still united the two allies was the expectation that the war would end with Anglo-French victory and that, serious though the failures in Scandinavia had been, the strategy for containing Germany militarily was still expected to work. There is little evidence that either government anticipated the upheaval which materialized over the two months that followed. 

The same morning on which Churchill was appointed prime minister, German forces began the campaign in the West. Allied intelligence was more prepared for this eventuality than for the Norwegian campaign since Allied strategy was based on resisting a German assault rather than starting their own offensive, but the intelligence services failed entirely to anticipate the shape of the German campaign, which quickly unhinged all Allied preparations. Its remarkable success surprised German commanders no less. Many of them, like their Allied counterparts, imagined, in the end, something like a repeat of the Western Front of the Great War if the operation failed. Instead, for the loss of 27,000 men, the whole of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France fell under German control. Nothing could have been more different from the war experienced by the commanders of both sides twenty-five years before. Both during the war and for long after it, the defeated Allies tried to explain their humiliation in terms of overwhelming German strength, fuelled by years of frenetic rearmament, a grim contrast with the tardy and uncoordinated efforts in the West. Historians have now dispelled this image by demonstrating that the total resources available to both sides actually favored the Allies, in some cases by a generous margin. French, Belgian, Dutch and British army divisions for the north-eastern front in France numbered 151, German army divisions 135, including 42 in reserve; Allied artillery pieces amounted to 14,000 against 7,378 German; Allied tanks, many of them superior in firepower and armor to their German counterparts, amounted to 3,874 in contrast to 2,439 German. Even in the air, where Germany was always assumed to be far in the lead by the end of the 1930s, the balance favored the Allies; estimates range between 4,400 and 5,400 aircraft (which included substantial numbers held in reserve) in contrast to the 3,578 operational aircraft available on 10 May for the German air force in Air Fleets 2 and 3.36

Although these figures are not wrong, they are misleading in several important respects. The army and air force numbers include Belgian and Dutch forces, but neither of the two small armies had concerted plans with the French, while the two small air forces had no co-ordinated defense plan with the French and British and were all but wiped out in attacks on their air bases in the first day of the campaign. Air parity for Britain and France was also a statistical illusion. The French high command had by 10 May only 879 serviceable aircraft on the front-facing the Germans, while the British contingent of 416 was a fraction of the 1,702 front-line aircraft available to the RAF, kept in Britain for the defense of the island. The remaining French aircraft, a good number of them obsolescent by 1940, was in depots or at bases in the rest of metropolitan France, while 465 were in North Africa in case of an Italian offensive. Those that were available at the vital front were assigned to individual armies rather than concentrated together, making the disparity with the centrally controlled and concentrated German air force even more marked. In reality, the two Western Allies had only around 1,300 aircraft facing the 3,578 German.

In artillery, the gap was also less significant than the raw numbers suggest. The French relied a great deal on 1918 artillery pieces, while too few of the modern 47mm anti-tank guns were available by May 1940 with crews trained in their use, leaving many divisions using the 37mm gun from the First World War was ineffective against modern tanks. Anti-aircraft guns were also in short supply: 3,800 compared with 9,300 German.37 Though the best French and British tanks had larger caliber guns and thicker armor than the best German tanks, they were a small part of the overall task force, while French tanks were slow and greedy for fuel. More important was the way the tanks were organized. German forces put all the tanks into ten combined-arms Panzer divisions and six motorized divisions, a concentrated force designed as the spearhead of a large infantry and horse-drawn army, to punch through and disorganize the enemy line; French tanks, even those in the three light mechanized divisions (DLM) or the three Reserve Armoured Divisions (DCR), were designed to work in the context of the infantry battle, helping to prevent an enemy breakthrough, rather than as independent offensive units. Of the 2,900 tanks committed by France, only 960 were in these mechanized units; the rest were scattered among the regular divisions. None, of course, had yet seen or experienced modern tank fighting, unlike the German army.38 The critical conclusion about the balance of forces is that the German side enjoyed local superiority at precisely the points that mattered. 

These differences were magnified by the strategy chosen by the two sides. Since the defeat of France was the critical turning point of the war, the conflict is worth examining in some detail. The German arguments about the shape of ‘Case Yellow’ were fully resolved by March. The German armed forces were organized in three army groups: Army Group B, with three Panzer divisions, was to punch through the Netherlands and Belgium towards France to lure the bulk of the French and British forces into a counter-offensive in Belgium; Army Group C sat behind the German Westwall defenses to pin down the thirty-six French divisions manning the Maginot Line; the key was Army Group A under General Gerd von Rundstedt, with seven armored divisions facing the south Belgian Ardennes forest and Luxembourg. Hurrying through the woods, it was to cross the Meuse River by day three of the campaign and then strike northeast towards the Channel coast, keeping a defensive shield along the exposed left flank while encircling the Allied forces and annihilating their resistance. The plan’s success depended on the French army swallowing the bait of the offensive through northern Belgium, and an elaborate deception plan was carried out to make it appear that this was the principal axis of the German attack. 

The ruse was not, in the end, necessary because Gamelin and the French high command had long since decided on the advance into Belgium. In March, Gamelin chose to extend the Allied risk even further by the so-called ‘Breda variant,’ which involved a rapid deployment across Belgium by the French elite Seventh Army (previously a reserve formation), supported by the British Expeditionary Force, to meet up with the Dutch army to create a continuous defensive front. Breda was even further from the French frontier than the Dyle River, but Gamelin gambled that thirty Allied divisions could make it to the Dutch front in time to prevent a German breakthrough. The overall balance in the north was to be sixty Allied divisions against twenty-nine German; on the southern sector of the front the balance was reversed, eighteen against forty-five. The French had for years assumed that the Ardennes forest was virtually impassable for modern armies and it was guarded by a light Belgian covering force and seven underequipped reserve divisions.39 The risks were exceptional for both sides, but each was locked in a different way into the legacy of 1918: Gamelin, supported by British commanders, wanted to restore the continuous line and the methodical battle that had eventually worn the Germans down and was confident that this would be the outcome once again; German commanders worried that this would indeed be the result, so gambled everything on a rapid breakthrough and encirclement that had eluded them in 1914.

When the German armed forces began the assault in the West by launching devastating raids on enemy airfields and seizing the key Belgian fort of Eben-Emael in a daring paratroop strike, Gamelin reported that this was ‘just the opportunity he was awaiting.’40 The French First and Seventh armies, together with the BEF, were finally allowed on to Belgian soil to push towards the Dyle line and on to Breda. The French Ninth and Second armies were north and south of Sedan and the only obstacle to a German thrust from the south if it came. In the event, almost nothing worked according to plan. Allied forces drove towards Breda only to discover that the Dutch army had abandoned the area and moved further north. On 14 May, Rotterdam was bombed in support of a German army advance into the city; the following day, the Dutch commander-in-chief announced that ‘this unequal struggle must cease’ and promptly surrendered. Belgian defense along the Albert Canal in the east soon collapsed under the weight of the German assault, and Belgian units retreated into the path of the advancing French. A front of sorts was established along the Dyle River against the outnumbered German divisions, but there was no fully prepared defensive line, while Allied deployment was hampered by the flood of refugees (eventually estimated at between 8 and 10 million French and Belgian civilians) that clogged vital highways for advancing and retreating forces.41 On 16 May the defenders of the Dyle line were told by General Georges, the overall commander, to retreat as quickly as possible back to the French frontier because further south, through the allegedly impassable Ardennes, the whole French line had been unhinged.

The German operational plan had been met just as German commanders had hoped with the Allied advance into the Belgian trap. Hitler set up his headquarters at Münstereifel in a converted anti-aircraft bunker. He thought France would be defeated in six weeks, opening the way to a settlement with Britain, whose leaders would not want to ‘risk losing the empire’.42 It was here that news began to arrive about the assault of Army Group A through Luxembourg and the Ardennes on 10 May. The Panzer units were organized on three axes, one under Lieutenant General Heinz Guderian, Germany’s leading exponent of armored warfare, towards Sedan, the second under the command of Lieutenant General Hans Reinhardt towards Monthermé, north of Sedan, and a third under General Hermann Hoth towards the Belgian town of Dinant, designed to provide a flanking defense to the other two thrusts. The move forward soon stumbled as armored divisions competed with infantry divisions for space on the narrow roads. The 41,140 vehicles and 140,000 men created a 250-kilometer traffic jam which the commanders struggled to overcome. The crisis was mediated to some extent by careful logistical planning. Fuel dumps had been set up along the way, while three truck transport battalions provided fuel, ammunition, and supplies for the armored divisions as they moved forward. Once the movement was finally achieved, this logistical commitment was critical in allowing rapid mobility. Petrol cans were handed out to tanks on the move, like water for thirsty marathon runners.43

The most critical moment of the campaign came between 11 and 13 May, with the armored thrust brought to a virtual standstill, a sitting target for Allied airpower. There were few Allied aircraft over this vulnerable sector because the German air force kept a protective umbrella over the advance. The bulk of the Allied air force was contesting the advance further north. Still, the small number of French pilots who did report the endless streams of vehicles and tanks were not believed. As the German columns pushed through Luxembourg and the southern Ardennes, they battled with Belgian frontier forces and French cavalry, but no reports reached Georges or Gamelin that this might represent the significant German thrust because the French plan was predicated on the idea of a primary battle on the Flanders plain further north. On 13 May, despite the deployment nightmare through the Ardennes, all three German Panzer thrusts had reached the river, Meuse. The crossing of the river was a moment of high drama. The bridges had been destroyed, and the French were dug in along the far bank. The bulk of the German air force was now ordered to pound the enemy positions, and 850 bombers and dive-bombers spread a carpet of smoke and debris across the riverbank. The French Fifty-Fifth Division, opposite Guderian at Sedan, had only one anti-aircraft gun. Although damage was found later to have been much less than expected, the psychological impact of persistent bombardment left French defenders fearful and demoralized.44 Guderian’s three divisions battled their way across against heavy artillery. They machine-gunned fire, but by 11 p.m., enough had been achieved to allow the first bridge to be constructed and the first tanks crossed. Further north, General Erwin Rommel led his Seventh Panzer Division in person across the river at Houx, near Dinant, and against fierce French resistance had carved out a bridgehead of 3 kilometers by evening; Reinhardt’s two Panzer divisions at Monthermé met stiffer resistance because of the complex topography, and it took two days to overcome the defenders and break out of the pocket carved out on the western bank of the Meuse. Nevertheless, the Meuse crossings created panic among the weaker reserve divisions and at last alerted the French high command to the seriousness of a situation they had pretended could not happen. 

In the middle of the night of 13/14 May at the headquarters of General Georges, the news was finally presented in detail. Georges famously collapsed in tears: ‘Our front has been broken at Sedan! There has been a collapse.’45 What followed was the very reverse of the methodical battle Gamelin had planned. Reserve divisions in General Charles Huntziger’s Second Army melted away; General André Corap’s Ninth Army was facing a similar crisis to the north. Efforts at counter-attacks broke down because the French high command had not expected a mobile battle of maneuver. Communications were poor and fuel supplies for French tanks and trucks difficult to organize, so that hundreds of French vehicles found themselves immobilized in the path of the advancing German Panzer divisions. Units forced to march long distances at speed arrived exhausted or without equipment. In Belgium, the advance became a defensive retreat, leaving valuable supplies and fuel dumps behind. As is sometimes suggested, it was not a walkover since there was local and often fierce resistance, but the response was disorganized and improvised, the reverse of French planning. On 16 May, Churchill in London claimed that it was ‘ridiculous to think that 160 tanks could conquer France’, but when he flew to Paris the following day to meet Gamelin at the French Foreign Office, he found staff already burning papers. When he asked Gamelin where was the French reserve, he received the laconic reply ‘il n’y en a pas’ – there is none.46 

The scale of the crisis only slowly unfolded as French commanders and politicians came to understand what had happened, and the uncertainty and poor communication accelerated the rout. Although the breakthrough on the Meuse was supposed to be slowed down and consolidated in case of a French counter-attack, the French response was so disorganized and piecemeal that all three Panzer corps now turned and raced towards the Channel ports of Calais, Boulogne, and Dunkirk, as the Manstein plan required. This provoked a temporary panic at German headquarters. After a week of the remarkable success, Hitler now worried that the long, exposed flanks of the advancing Panzer divisions were bound to invite a robust French response. On 17 May, he argued with his commanders about whether the whole move should slow down. ‘The Führer is nervous,’ observed Franz Halder. ‘He is frightened by his own success and does not want to risk anything, and therefore would rather stop us.’47 Army Group C was unleashed against the Maginot Line on 18 May to ensure that the thirty-six French frontier divisions remained where they were. Two brief counter-attacks, one from the north by the tanks of the BEF at Arras on 18 May, one by the recently formed French Fourth Armoured Division at Moncornet on the 17th, led by Colonel Charles de Gaulle, created more anxieties for Hitler. The reality was different. The shock of the German advance and the complete incoherence of the Allied response played exactly to the strengths of German mobile warfare. Although the Panzer divisions were delayed twice by Hitler’s panicked interventions, once after Moncornet, after Arras, they had covered a remarkable amount of ground in just a week and the Panzer corps commanders were keen to press on to the coast and encircle the entire body of the French Seventh and First armies, the BEF and the Belgian army, trapped in the Flanders pocket. The decisive blow was stayed not by a Hitler’ halt order’, as is often suggested, but by the nervous commander of Army Group A, von Rundstedt, who ordered the Panzer divisions to form up together, refit and rest, some to move south to undertake the second part of the operation, ‘Case Red’, to defeat French forces in the rest of the country, some to drive to Dunkirk. Hitler approved von Rundstedt’s orders and gave him the responsibility for deciding when the advance should be recommenced. On 28 May, the twenty-one trapped Belgian divisions were taken out of the equation when the Belgian king surrendered. Two days earlier the German army had finally been given permission to complete the annihilation of the twenty-five French and ten British divisions that remained in the pocket behind a thin defensive line. 

The temporary loss of nerve at Hitler’s headquarters was nothing to the crisis that overwhelmed the Allies. As news filtered in, the French government faced a reality they regarded as incredible. At 7.30 on the morning of the 15 May, Reynaud telephoned Churchill with the grim conclusion that ‘We are beaten, we have lost the battle.’48 On the 20th Gamelin, whose relationship with Reynaud had never been good, was relieved of his post and replaced by the French commander in Syria, General Maxime Weygand, a veteran general of the Great War and a Reynaud ally. Marshal Philippe Pétain, who had triumphed at Verdun in 1916, was recalled from his post as ambassador in Madrid and appointed vice-premier to try to stiffen the fragile morale of the French people. Their appointments prompted a brief rallying of confidence in London and Paris: Weygand drew up (or rather inherited from Gamelin) a plan to attack the long German flanks from north and south, but it bore no relation to the reality on the ground; more realistically he prepared for a retreat to the line of the Somme and Aisne rivers, calling for the battered forces to display a ‘constant aggressiveness’ as they did so.49 But the scale of the calamity could not be concealed. There remained only forty French divisions along the new front line, with three motorized reserve groups to try to plug any gaps opened up by the Germans. The British War Cabinet and chiefs of staff drew the obvious conclusion. On 25 May a Commission set up under the former Cabinet secretary Maurice Hankey reported on ‘British Strategy in a Certain Eventuality’. He concluded that global war would not be decided by events in France, but with American and empire aid and the protection of the air force and navy, Britain could continue alone.50

The British and French began to think about an evacuation on 18 May, just over a week after the start of the campaign. Given a brief respite by the German halt, which allowed the BEF commander, Major General John Gort, to establish a perimeter north and south of the pocket, defended in the main by remnants of the French Seventh and First armies, Operation’ Dynamo’ began from Calais and Boulogne on 26 May. The embattled soldiers were at last given more air protection from RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes flying from bases in southern England. While the battle to eliminate the pocket raged all around them, 338,682 soldiers were embarked at Dunkirk on a motley 861 ships, 247,000 of them British, 123,000 French. There was also a French evacuation, largely ignored in British histories of Dunkirk. The French admiralty moved 45,000 soldiers to Britain, 4,000 to Le Havre, then a further 100,000 to the north French ports of Cherbourg and Brest, where they were supposed to rejoin the fighting along the Somme.51 The British operation was terminated on 4 June with the loss of 272 vessels, including 13 destroyers, and the abandonment of all the heavy equipment – 63,000 vehicles, 20,000 motorcycles, 475 tanks, and armored vehicles, and 2,400 guns.52 The soldiers left behind them, as one later wrote, ‘an infinity of destruction … a scene of utter military shambles.’ The British army did not surrender in June 1940, but the battle in Belgium and France must be understood to be a major defeat, not a heroic evacuation. The army left to defend Britain had in June 1940 just 54 anti-tank guns and 583 artillery pieces. The regular army had been, for the moment, emasculated as a fighting force.53 

While the collapse of resistance on the northeast front continued in late May, the significant Allies began to consider the awful capitulation scenario unthinkable two weeks before. Weygand, despite his apparent resilience and energy, told the French Cabinet on 25 May to think about abandoning the fight, and Reynaud was the first to pronounce the word ‘armistice’, though it was an ambiguous term, as the Germans had discovered in November 1918. According to a commitment, made on 25 March 1940, this had to be agreed with the British that neither ally would make a separate peace. On 26 May Reynaud flew to London to explain to Churchill that France might have to consider giving up. Unknown to him, the British War Cabinet had begun that morning to discuss a proposal from the foreign secretary, Halifax, presented to him by the Italian ambassador, for a possible conference convened by Mussolini. Italian motives remain unclear since by now Mussolini was also preparing to declare war to profit from what seemed to the Italian leadership a ripe opportunity for exploiting the imminent conquest of France. After three days of debate, the British decided against any initiative. Though often seen as a turning point at which the appeasers might nearly have triumphed, some discussion of the consequences of a comprehensive defeat was inevitable, and not even Halifax had favored any settlement that compromised Britain’s primary interests. Eventually winning support from Chamberlain, who kept a seat in the War Cabinet, Churchill carried the debate in favor of rejecting any approach to Mussolini. British leaders were already contemplating war without France. ‘If France could not defend herself,’ Churchill told his colleagues, ‘it was better that she should get out of the war.’54 France continued to fight for three more weeks in rapidly deteriorating circumstances. The option of an armistice remained the most likely outcome, but other alternatives were explored. The idea of a ‘Breton redoubt’ was raised in late May, where French forces, perhaps reinforced by a new British contingent, could hold a defensive line around Brittany and the port of Cherbourg, and a study was commissioned to test its feasibility.55 More hope was placed in the idea that France could continue to resist from its North African empire, where large forces had already been based to safeguard against the possibility of an Italian pre-emptive strike from Libya, and whither thousands of French soldiers could be transported from the mainland. Reynaud set in train in early June plans to evacuate 80,000 men to French Morocco; de Gaulle, now a junior minister of war after his success at Moncornet, asked the French Admiralty on 12 June to move 870,000 men to Africa in three weeks. Only the British navy had this kind of capacity and the British effort was devoted to moving all the remaining British forces in western France (and 19,000 Polish soldiers) to add to those rescued at Dunkirk. Operation ‘Aerial,’ the abandonment of France, was ordered on 14 June and completed ten days later.

A further 185,000 men got back to England, with the loss this time of just six destroyers and 3 percent of the transport shipping.56 On 22 June, Weygand asked the French commander-in-chief in North Africa, General Charles Noguès, what the prospects were for resistance from North Africa with the forces at hand. By that stage, much of the French fleet and approximately 850 aircraft were now stationed in the African empire, but only 169 modern tanks and 7 divisions were ready for combat from the 14 available. Though Noguès possessed a force sufficient to keep an invasion at bay, Weygand did not consider it realistic to pursue the imperial option, any more than a redoubt in France. On 26 June, Noguès accepted, with ‘the death of the soul’ that empire resistance was over.57 


The critical factor for Japan, Italy, and Germany was territory. Control over a domain, exercised in various formal and informal ways, lay at the heart of the empire. The model for ‘territoriality’ was the forty years of violent territorial expansion and pacification that preceded the 1930s and were still going on. In this more extended context, the decisions taken in Tokyo, Rome, or Berlin to wage their local wars of aggression make historical sense. The discourses of ‘race and space’ that had supported empire since the late nineteenth century had lost none of their explanatory force for the generation that came to power in the 1930s. Though this form of imperialism appears anachronistic, even delusional, the paradigm of empire seemed familiar and near. The results of the redistribution of territory in 1919–23, or the consequences of the economic catastrophe after 1929, only strengthened rather than weakened the belief that seizing more territory and resources was an indispensable means to save the nation. From the Manchurian Incident to Word War II.

It is not clear when Hitler decided that living space in the East could be found more usefully in Poland. Until 1938, the Poles were regarded as potential allies in a German-dominated anti-Soviet bloc. They would hand back the German lands they were granted at Versailles and voluntarily became a German satellite. Only when the Polish government repeatedly refused the German request for an extra-territorial rail and road link across the Polish Corridor and the incorporation of the League-run Free City of Danzig back into Germany did Hitler decide to launch against the Poles the small war he had been denied in 1938, and to take Polish resources by force. Poland now contained the vast former German coal and steel region in Silesia and promised vast areas for German settlement and an agricultural surplus to feed the German population. At the meeting on 23 May 1939, when Hitler presented to the military leadership his intentions against Poland, he claimed that ‘Danzig is not the object in this case. For us, it involves rounding off our living space in the East and securing our food supplies.’ Food supply could only come from the East because it was sparsely populated, continued Hitler. German agricultural proficiency would raise the productivity of the region many times over. From the Manchurian Incident to Word War II, part two.

The calculation that Hitler would be deterred by the sight of the rapidly rearming British and French empires or by the wave of anti-fascist sentiment washing across the democracies was not entirely misplaced. A weaker hand had forced Hitler to climb down from war in 1938. Intelligence sources suggested a severe economic crisis in Germany, even the possibility of an anti-Hitler coup. Even after the German invasion of Poland on 1 September, Chamberlain allowed him to withdraw his forces rather than face a world war. The idea of a conference was briefly mooted by the Italian leadership on 2 September, echoing Mussolini’s intervention in September 1938. Still, the foreign secretary Lord Halifax told his Italian counterpart Ciano that the British condition was ‘the withdrawal of German troops from Polish soil,’ which ended any prospect of peace.60 Historians have searched for convincing evidence that Chamberlain wanted to wriggle out of his commitment even at this late stage, but there is none. Only a complete German capitulation to British and French demands for an end to the violence would have averted world war, and by 1 September, that was the least likely outcome. Neither containment nor deterrence had in this case worked. Chamberlain announced a state of war on the radio at 11.15 on the morning of 3 September; Daladier announced a state of war at 5 p.m. that afternoon. A temporary alliance of imperial elites and democratic anti-fascists had made possible a new world war. ‘We can’t lose,’ observed the British army chief of staff in his diary. When the war of empires started in Manchuria not included Western Europe.

The British Empire did not collapse or accept defeat in 1940, but the year was a turning point in the long history of European imperialism. Failure and occupation in Europe undermined the claims of the other metropolitan powers, France, Belgium fatally, and the Netherlands. Fatally undermined For the British Empire, the crisis raised awkward questions about the future. Nevertheless, the British government refused to confront the paradox of emphasizing the value of the empire to Britain’s war effort while at the same time using force to stifle demands for greater political autonomy in India and running Egypt under virtual martial law. The priority was the survival of the home islands. Neither side, German nor British, could find a strategy capable of undermining the other’s war willingness or achieving a decisive military result. Still, it seems almost certain that with an army of 180 divisions and the spoils of much of continental Europe, Germany would have found a way in 1941 of bringing the war in the West to an end if Hitler had not turned to the East. Britain, by contrast, had no way of achieving victory over Germany. Expelled from Europe twice in Norway and France, facing a crisis in Africa, economically weakened, desperately defending its access to the broader world economy, Britain faced strategic bankruptcy. The war Britain waged for a year after the fall of France was the one prepared for in the 1930s – air defense, a powerful navy, and lesser imperial conflicts. This was the war Chamberlain had prepared for, but Churchill was the one forced to wage it. War almost lost.

The two major campaigns against British Malaya and the American Philippines protectorate began on 8 December. Pilots with specialized training for extended overseas flights attacked the Philippines, flying from Japanese Empire bases on Taiwan; as in Oahu, they found American aircraft lined up on the tarmac at Clark Field and destroyed half the B-17s and one-third of the fighters. Amphibious landings began on the 10th on the main island of Luzon and made rapid progress towards the capital, Manila, which surrendered on 3 January. The United States commander, General Douglas MacArthur, appointed earlier in the year, withdrew his mixed American–Filipino force south to the Bataan peninsula. The staff was doomed with no air cover and only 1,000 tons of supplies shipped by an American submarine. MacArthur was evacuated to Australia on 12 March to fight another day. Bataan was surrendered on 9 April. On 6 May, after a grueling and tenacious defense of the island fortress of Corregidor, the surviving American commander, General Jonathan Wainwright, gave up the fight.

The Japanese Fourteenth Army captured almost 70,000 soldiers, 10,000 of them American. They were marched along the Bataan Peninsula to an improvised camp; ill, exhausted, and hungry, they suffered beatings, killings, and humiliation from Japanese Empire forces. The geopolitical transformation of Asia and the Pacific.

In 1942 the new Fair Employment agency was absorbed by the War Manpower Commission, limiting the prospects for using the agency to combat racial inequality. In the South, the administration offered subsidies and training programs to help raise the productivity of white farms while turning a blind eye to the increased control over black workers that wartime reforms made possible. The president remained largely silent on the paradox presented by his rhetoric of freedom and the survival of racial segregation and discrimination at home. The same held for Roosevelt’s view of racism in the British Empire, which was prudently cautious about undermining the wartime alliance, despite his private view that the colonial empires were morally bankrupt and ought to be brought under international trusteeship or granted independence. When the British authorities arrested Gandhi in August 1942 and thousands of other Indian supporters of his ‘Quit India’ campaign, Roosevelt made no public statement condemning the decision or the violence. Walter White, secretary of the NAACP, canceled a speech he was to make on behalf of the Office of War Information in protest and sent a telegram to Roosevelt linking the civil rights movement to the broader world struggle for emancipation from Western imperialism: ‘One billion brown and yellow people in the Pacific will without question consider ruthless treatment of Indian leaders and peoples typical of what white people will do to colored people if United Nations win. How the various countries justified WWII.


1. The National Archives London (henceforth TNA) PREM 1/395, translation of Hitler speech of 6 October 1939 for the prime minister, p. 18.

2. Winkler, The Age of Catastrophe, 670–71. 

3. Quétel, L’impardonnable défaite, 216–17. 

4. Maurois, Why France Fell, 73. 

5. Speer, Inside the Third Reich, 163. 

6. Megargee, Inside Hitler’s High Command, 76; Nicolaus von Below, At Hitler’s Side: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe Adjutant 1937–1945 (London, 2001), 40–41. 

7. TNA, PREM 1/395, Lord Halifax, draft response to Hitler, 8 October 1939; Churchill to Chamberlain, 9 October 1939; minute for Chamberlain from Alexander Cadogan (Foreign Office), 8 October 1939. 

8. Willi Boelcke (ed.), The Secret Conferences of Dr. Goebbels 1939–1943 (London, 1967), 6, directive of 16 December 1939; Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs 1939–1945 (London, 1990), 60, Conference of Department Heads, 25 November 1939. 

9. Megargee, Inside Hitler’s High Command, 76. 

10. Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis, Md, 2012), 63–8; Mungo Melvin, Manstein: Hitler’s Greatest General (London, 2010), 136–7, 142, 149–51, 154–5; von Below, At Hitler’s Side, 40–41. 

11. Martin Alexander, ‘The fall of France, 1940’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 13 (1990), 13–21; Julian Jackson, The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940 (Oxford, 2003), 75–6. 

12. TNA, PREM 1/437, press communiqué on meeting of the Supreme War Council, 15 November 1939. 

13. Brian Bond, France and Belgium 1939–1940 (London, 1990), 40–41, 49–51, 58–9. 

14. Martin Alexander, ‘“Fighting to the last Frenchman?” Reflections on the BEF deployment to France and the strains in the Franco-British alliance, 1939–1940’, in Joel Blatt (ed.), The French Defeat of 1940: Reassessments (Providence, RI, 1998), 323–6; Bond, France and Belgium, 76–7. 

15. Quétel, L’impardonnable défaite, 237; Robert Desmond, Tides of War: World News Reporting 1931–1945 (Iowa City, Iowa, 1984), 93. 

16. Gallup (ed.), International Opinion Polls, 22, 30. 

17. Quétel, L’impardonnable défaite, 246; Alan Allport, Browned Off and Bloody-Minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939–1945 (New Haven, Conn., 2015), 44.

18. Talbot Imlay, ‘France and the Phoney War 1939–1940’, in Boyce (ed.), French Foreign and Defence Policy, 265–6. 

19. TNA, WO 193/144, War Office Memorandum for the Supreme War Council, 15 December 1939; Director of Military Operations report, ‘Operational Considerations affecting Development of Equipment for Land Offensive’, 12 April 1940. 

20. Richard Overy, ‘Air Power, Armies, and the War in the West, 1940’, 32nd Harmon Memorial Lecture, US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, 1989, 1–2. 

21. Guillen, ‘Franco-Italian relations in flux’, 160–61. 

22. Morewood, British Defence of Egypt, 139–47. 

23. Macri, Clash of Empires in South China, 195–201, 214–15. 

24. Geoffrey Roberts, ‘Stalin’s wartime vision of the peace, 1939–1945’, in Timothy Snyder and Ray Brandon (eds.), Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination 1928–1953 (New York, 2014), 234–6; Martin Kahn, Measuring Stalin’s Strength during Total War (Gothenburg, 2004), 87–9. 

25. TNA, WO 193/144, War Office memorandum’ Assistance to Finland’, 16 December 1939 (‘we cannot recommend that we should declare war on Russia’); Kahn, Measuring Stalin’s Strength, 90–92. 

26. Gabriel Gorodetsky (ed.), The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador at the Court of St James’s, 1932–1943 (New Haven, Conn., 2015), 245, entry for 12 December 1939. 

27. Patrick Salmon, ‘Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and Finland’, in John Hiden and Thomas Lane (eds.), The Baltic and the Outbreak of the Second World War (Cambridge, 1991), 116–17; Thomas Munch-Petersen, ‘Britain and the outbreak of the Winter War’, in Robert Bohn et al. (eds.), Neutralität und totalitäre Aggression: Nordeuropa und die Grossmächteim Zweiten Weltkrieg (Stuttgart, 1991), 87–9; John Kennedy, The Business of War (London, 1957), 47–8. 

28. TNA, PREM 1/437, Reynaud to Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, 25 Mar. 1940. 

29. TNA, PREM 1/437, memorandum for the prime minister, ‘Possibilities of Allied Action against the Caucasus’, March 1940, p. 3. For details of the operation see C. O. Richardson, ‘French plans for Allied attacks on the Caucasus oil fields January–April 1940’, French Historical Studies, 8 (1973), 130–53. 

30. Edward Spears, Assignment to Catastrophe (London, 1954), 102–6; Jackson, Fall of France, 82–4. 

31. Walter Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45 (London, 1964), 66–72. 

32. Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 63–7, 80–84. 

33. Maier et al., Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg: Band II, 212–17; British Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (London, 1983), 60–63. 

34. Maier et al., Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg: Band II, 224. 

35. Robert Rhodes James (ed.), The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (London, 1993), 244–50, entries for 7, 8, 9 May 1940. 

36. Frieser, Blitzkrieg Legend, 36–48. The statistics on air power are subject to some variation, depending on levels of serviceability on particular days and the classification of reserves. Patrick Facon, L’Armée de l’Air dans la tourmente: La Bataille de France 1939–1940 (Paris, 1997), 151–69, arrives at rather different figures: 5,524 aircraft for the Allies, 3,959 for the German side. See too Ernest May, Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France (New York, 2000), 479, who gives figures for bombers and fighters for the two sides: 2,779 German against 5,133 Allied. 

37. Frieser, Blitzkrieg Legend, 45; Facon, L’Armée de l’Air, 169, 205; Jackson, Fall of France, 15–17. 

38. Jackson, Fall of France, 21–5. On the German horse-drawn tail see Richard Dinardo, Mechanized Juggernaut or Military Anachronism? Horses and the German Army of WWII (Mechanicsburg, Pa, 2008), 24–6. 

39. Quétel, L’impardonnable défaite, 246. 

40. Frieser, Blitzkrieg Legend, 93. 

41. Henri Wailly, ‘La situation intérieure’, in Philippe Ricalens and Jacques Poyer (eds.), L’Armistice de juin 1940: Faute ou necessité? (Paris, 2011), 48–9. 

42. Von Below, At Hitler’s Side, 57. 

43. Frieser, Blitzkrieg Legend, 107–12. 

44. Ibid., 161. 

45. Jackson, Fall of France, 45–7. 

46. David Dilks (ed.), The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan 1938–1945 (London, 1971), 284, entry for 16 May; Spears, Assignment to Catastrophe, 150. 

47. Megargee, Inside Hitler’s High Command, 85. 

48. Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man (London, 2006), 3. 

49. Max Schiaron, ‘La Bataille de France, vue par le haut commandement français’, in Ricalens and Poyer (eds.), L’Armistice de juin 1940, 3–5. 

50. Stephen Roskill, Hankey: Man of Secrets, Volume III 1931–1963 (London, 1974), 477–8. 

51. Claude Huan, ‘Les capacités de transport maritime’, in Ricalens and Poyer (eds.), L’Armistice de juin 1940, 37–8. 

52. Frieser, Blitzkrieg Legend, 301–2.

53. Allport, Browned Off and Bloody-Minded, 55–6. 

54. Sebag-Montefiore, Dunkirk, 250–53. 

55. Paul Gaujac, ‘L’armée de terre française en France et en Afrique du Nord’, in Ricalens and Poyer (eds.), L’Armistice de juin 1940, 15–16. 

56. Huan, ‘Les capacités de transport maritime’, 38–9. On Polish soldiers see Kochanski, The Eagle Unbowed, 212–16. 

57. Jacques Belle, ‘La volonté et la capacité de défendre l’Afrique du Nord’, in Ricalens and Poyer (eds.), L’Armistice de juin 1940, 150–57; Gaujac, ‘L’armée de terre française’, 20–22. 

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