Thursday, November 7, 2013

11 May, 1940 - Flanders

Battle of Flanders

German anti-tank crew in Belgium, 1940

By the second day of battle the German army was proceeding mostly to plan while confusion was already beginning to set in with the Allied forces.  Two reasons can quickly be identified as the root cause of Allied disorganization.  The more significant is probably the lack of coordination between Allied command and the command of Belgian and Dutch forces, which acted independent of any overall command structure.  This contributed to the friction over where troops would be assigned along the River Dyle defensive line.  A second significant problem was the inability of different commands to communicate with one another, making it nearly impossible for battlefield commanders to address problems between units and also obscuring the changing nature of the battle itself.  Contributing to the inability to communicate was the policy of French High Command to maintain mostly radio silence during the period leading up to the outbreak of war on May 10.  Radio operators had little, if any, actual experience on their equipment.  The result was that orders and messages between commands often depended upon overburdened and insecure commercial phone lines.  When Bernard Montgomery, commander of the British 3rd Division, reported a dispute between his unit and a Belgian division over who had responsibility for a sector on the defensive line, his commanding officer, General Alan Brooke found it exceedingly difficult to reach his own headquarters in an attempt to resolve the matter.

Still the Germans were not without problems.  One of the arguments against relying on a major offensive to sweep through the Low Countries was the numerous waterways that slowed movement and provided natural defensive barriers to oncoming troops.  General Fedor von Bock, Commander of Germany’s Army Group B, was particularly frustrated with the snarled traffic approaching a critical bridge that crossed the Maas River into Holland.  His valuable 9th Panzer Division was stalled and vulnerable to air attack.  Fortunately for his men no Allied aircraft ever appeared.  His 4th Panzer Division was nearly without fuel because of the difficulties in delivering supplies across the Maas and Albert Canal.  In desperation he was able to fly in 20,000 liters of fuel but that amount wouldn't take a thirsty armored division very far down the road.

Better progress was being made further south as the 3rd Panzer Division had crossed the bridge at Maastricht and was now pushing into Belgium.  German divisions were beginning to cross the Albert Canal in number, forcing Belgian troops into a general retreat towards the next available defensive line along the River Dyle.  They would show up just as French and British troops were arriving to set up their own defensive positions.  At one point Belgians fired on Montgomery’s 3rd division, believing them to be German paratroopers.  The success of the German onslaught reinforced French conviction that they were facing the full weight of the German offensive in this Battle of Flanders.

Meanwhile, Army Group A was making steady progress through the Ardennes countryside to the southeast.  Heinz Guderian’s lead tank divisions, the 1st, 2nd and 10th Panzer Division had all fought off token resistance from both Belgian troops and French cavalry.  By the evening of this second day, the 1st Panzer Division was held up by stiffening French resistance just outside the town of Bouillon, a mere 10 miles from Sedan and their first critical objective – the River Meuse.  The success of Germany’s war in the West depended on the ability of their tanks to cross this river and break through French defenses on the far side.  If they succeeded in making it across their efforts and sacrifice would be rewarded with terrain perfectly suited for tank operations.  It would be open fields behind the enemy’s lines all the way to the English Channel, or Paris, or behind the Maginot Line – wherever the German command most desired to go.

Related Topics:

10 May 1940 - Flanders

12 May 1940 - Flanders


Objective:  France 1940

No comments:

Post a Comment