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  #21  
Old 21st February 2005, 10:13
Graham Boak Graham Boak is offline
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One foot at home

Are we talking about the entire military political scenario of the late 1930s, or the performance of the l'Armee de l'Air in May 1940? My last comments were specifically directed at the latter. I stand by the suggestion that a defender with good CCI will make better use of their resources. The Channel did indeed stop the Panzers when the French landmass failed, but this does not make all other comparisons invalid.

In the wider picture, that Britain's defences were entrusted (at a time of massive economic depression) into the navy rather than a large land army is only to be expected, given centuries of history that proved this worked. That the army had only a small modern element capable of fighting continental warfare was probably inevitable, but all of it was committed to France. Thankfully sufficient funds and forethought had been given to the RAF's structure.

I think it would be very difficult to support an argument that a larger British army on the Continent would somehow prevented or reversed the German successes; whereas a weaker Navy and RAF could well have been disastrous. Nations, like individuals, must fight to their strengths, whilst minimising their weaknesses.
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  #22  
Old 21st February 2005, 11:59
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Ruy Horta Ruy Horta is offline
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Re: One foot at home

Quote:
Originally Posted by Graham Boak
I think it would be very difficult to support an argument that a larger British army on the Continent would somehow prevented or reversed the German successes; whereas a weaker Navy and RAF could well have been disastrous. Nations, like individuals, must fight to their strengths, whilst minimising their weaknesses.
Would a weaker, or less offensive (in terms of strategically oriented), RAF really have mattered that much in the Battle of Britain?

That's arguable.

I agree that the main defence of Britain rested upon the RN, guarding to sealanes, but I could picture a scenario where a less successfull Battle of Britain would not result in a British defeat as long as Germany proofed to be incapable of mounting an offensive.

Life in the south would have been more difficult, industry might have suffered more delays, but as long as the nation would stand behind a prolonged conflict there would be no defeat until defeated in the field, or at best at sea.

So the Battle of Britain could be defined as only the first step.

The germans needed a victory, even a draw wasn't enough.

Personally I think that Britain should have taken a more continental approach, but there are plenty of reasons (political, economic etc) why that could not be expected in 1939/40. Ironically I hold the reverse to be true in 1914, but that's off topic.

But without proper research (that is proper arguments and with source reference) I'm only spreading opinion and some of it not too strong. So my apologies for wasting a lot of time.
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  #23  
Old 22nd February 2005, 18:02
Laurent Rizzotti Laurent Rizzotti is offline
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I don't think a good history of the Armée de l'Air in 1939-1940 or of the air battle in May-June 1940 exists now.

All books I know are interested mainly in only one airforce.

As for the French airforce, some books show victories (Gillet) while others show losses (Martin), few will describe operations, especially bombing and recon ones.

The greatest failure of Armée de l'Air IMOO was its failure to affect the ground battle. Bombers had almost nil influence and each unit was almost decimated in the first sorties. Fighters were unable to protect the troops from German bombers and Stukas (that were more efficient and used at the right places in great numbers), mostly due to doctrine of use.

Martin's book "Ils étaient là" lists all air losses of operationnal units of Armée de l'Air, not operationnal losses. Planes of second lines unit (local defence flights, for example) that get shot down are not shown, while planes of first line units lost in training, ferry and so on are.

It also doesn't cover the Aéronavale (French Fleet Air Arm).

No published source lists the French ground losses AFAIK. Armée de l'Air was never crushed on the ground but several units were decimated and retired to the rear to be recompleted. Most of the times they returned with more modern planes but so some units were missing on the frontline for some time.
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  #24  
Old 23rd February 2005, 12:39
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German bombers, French fighters

Laurent, I think, is right on almost all points but NOT on his claim that French fighters were unable to protect the ground troops against German bombers. This they did very well indeed and they shot down dozens of « Stukas » (the RAF Hurricanes too) as well as hundreds of twin-engined bombers.Very often, too, German bombers which they were not able to shoot down jettisoned their bombs harmlessly in the countryside in order to escape the French fighters. Of course the latter did not shoot down 100 % of the attackers so most of these got through and bombed their objectives (but often precisely this, or at least accurate bombing, was prevented by French fighters). You almost never can destroy 100 % of the enemy bombers ! You never can wage war without receiving any blows : it began with stones, sticks, arrows, swords etc., later bullets, artillery shells, then bombs. This is totally inevitable, you never can prevent the enemy from trying to harm your own troops and often to succeed in this. If you are at war you’ll suffer losses. « Even » the USA had almost 300,000 men killed during WW II (far less than half the total French losses including civilians, which means mainly women and children).

It is well-known by now that Stuka attacks on Allied troops – at least 1940 – were very ineffective. Even very accurate bomb drops were not good enough if a bomb exploded 10 m away from dug-in soldiers, who remained unscathed. There is a famous example reported by a French officer whose unit (hundreds of men) were bombed by HOWLING Stukas for approx. 20 minutes IIRC. When it was over they slowly rose from their holes and shelters. Everybody was convinced that he was the sole survivor but in fact – IIRC – nobody had been killed ! Possibly there were a few wounded, I don’t know. But the PSYCHOLOGICAL effect had been terrific. Those who were shelled by artillery for several days without any serious effect were demoralised by a 10, 20 or 30 minutes’ Stuka attack ! But even this effect disappeared after a while, the troops got used to it and the Stukas were not more terrifying than artillery any more. Stukas often WERE very effective for destroying pin-point, small targets or making them useless : pillboxes (casemates) and the like, bridges, crossroads, railways, troop concentrations in the open etc. They also achieved success, like at Sedan, in forcing French troops to take cover while German troops were attacking and disabling French pillboxes or tanks (without outright destroying them, which was unnecessary).

Actually the main protection of French and British ground troops ought to have been their own, mobile (and also fixed) AA including AA-machine-guns against low-flying E/A. No country in the world could protect all ground troops against air attack at any time with own fighters, this was and is impossible. Even in the 1944 Normandy Campaign German fighter-bombers managed to get through and attack Allied ground forces in spite of over 15,000 Allied planes (including many bombers – which bombed German airfields, aircraft and hideouts in the woods). I think 1940 British troops were well-equipped in AA. The 1940 French had got excellent AA weapons (20 and 25 mm, Bofors 40 mm, 75 mm, 90 mm, machine-guns…) but often too few. In any case it happened only in rare instances during WW II, including in May-June 1940 over France and Benelux, that bombers were forced to abandon their attack competely. You could shoot down part of them but rarely scare them off.

Look here : during ground battles nobody expects the own ground troops to annihilate the enemy entirely, preventing him from inflicting losses on friendly troops. Likewise nobody expects the own artillery to entirely destroy the enemy’s artillery, preventing it from shelling own troops. Everybody would just love that but everybody knows it’s not possible. So why should it be possible, and demanded, in the field of airpower ? Nobody claims that French artillery failed 1914-18 just because German artillery kept shelling Allied troops. Whys should we be harsher to the fighters ? They did fight as best they could, the results prove it (and just ask German bomber veterans – those who survived…).

French AC destroyed on the ground BY GERMAN AIR ATTACKS were never really counted except perhaps on 10 May 1940 but you can make an evaluation, probably about 300. More or less the same number was destroyed by the retreating French (often just because there was no petrol left to fly them away, or they didn't have a spare wheel etc.) or just left behind. These are just rough evaluations.
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  #25  
Old 23rd February 2005, 13:01
Laurent Rizzotti Laurent Rizzotti is offline
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I agree that French pilots shot down tens of Stukas and hundreds of Heinkels/Dorniers/Junkers. When a French (or a British for that matter) managed to fly close by a Stuka unit it usually suffered a lot, exactly like they did during BoB later. But the fact is that many German raids on the frontline weren't intercepted at all. Raids on rear positions (airfields, railways and so on) were more often intercepted.

The Allied bomber casualty rate was far greater than the German one. One of the reasons is that German Flak was far better than Allied AA but German fighter pilots also fly more missions than French pilots.

I agree that bombing is mostly inefficient against tanks or dug-in troops... except the pyschological impact, that was very important in the Stuka case. Bombing on moving units or trains is far more efficient and many French units were hurt like that.

To be precise, no airforce in 1940 was able to protect his Army the way the USAAF and RAF were able to cover Normandy in 1944. But the Luftwaffe had never to do that as the Allied hadn't the possibility to bomb efficiently German troops.
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  #26  
Old 23rd February 2005, 17:02
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Protecting the own troops

Quote:
Originally Posted by Laurent Rizzotti
To be precise, no airforce in 1940 was able to protect his Army the way the USAAF and RAF were able to cover Normandy in 1944. But the Luftwaffe had never to do that as the Allied hadn't the possibility to bomb efficiently German troops.
- I don't quite agree with your last sentence. 1940 Allied bombers, especially British (this was the result of a French-British agreement on airpower) very often attacked German troops, certainly often with success : Fairey "Battle", Bristol "Blenheim" and other types too (Hampden etc.) but the far better Vickers "Wellington" were retained at home in Britain and many good, brave RAF Bomber Command crews were slaughtered on the continent flying 'Battles" and "Blenheims". British bombers were used especially in order to slow down the German advance with the aim of giving British and French troops the time to escape to another place and eventually to ships sailing to Britain. They bombed some strategic and tactical targets too, like factories in Germany, airfields etc.

French bombers were far less numerous but their numbers were rising very fast : from almost nothing on 10 May to several hundred modern bombers LeO 451 (cannon-armed), Amiot 351/354 (idem), Breguet 693-95 (idem), Douglas DB-7 (6 machine-guns, the future "Havoc"), Glenn-Martin 167F (idem; 4 Groupes of this type alone were engaged in combat) - several hundred at the end in spite of heavy losses. The French Air Force was the only one to engage two "groupes" of 2 escadrilles each of heavy four-engined bombers (Farman 222), not counting two ex-Air France civilian, four-engined makeshift bombers Farman 223/4 used by the Aéronavale, of which one dropped over two metric tons (over 2 000 kg) of bombs on BERLIN in the night of 7-8 June : first air attack on Berlin ever, but they attacked carefully selected MILITARY targets only, no "area bombing" of the city.

The light assault bombers Breguet 693-95 were slaughtered in their first very low-level attacks because Allied HQ had not yet realised how powerful German light Flak was but HQ quickly changed tactics, giving up the hedge-hopping attacks. Nevertheless HQ behaved with great stupidity when they sent the excellent LeOs in very small units and much too low to be used effectively, at heights where all Flak guns (light or heavy) were able to hit them. Only when the collapse disorganised the chain of command were the good men able to organise reasonable missions at the LeO's best altitude, in formations allowing good mutual defense against German fighters with their excellent cannon plus machine-guns, where they could use the good bombing sight (which was impossible in the stupid low-level or medium-altitude attacks). The LeO was an EXCELLENT medium bomber but almost devoid of any armour and all too often HQ used it as an assault AC like the later Shturmovik or Typhoon! According to my data, which possibly is not quite accurate (but this is the only ones I have now) Breguet 693-695 light assault bombers flew approx. 500 combat soeries and lost 47 of their number, half of them to Flak. About 10 % losses is heavy losses but not really a complete slaughter. This figure certainly would have improved in July and August...

Bombers belonging to both Allied air forces certainly also inflicted some losses and damage on the German Army and on LW fighters, at a high cost in planes and in men. But let us not exaggerate the losses - this has been done, with big wailing, for 65 years. For example the famous Sedan battle cost... 3 (three) Amiot 143s. For several decades I had got the impression that it had been a terrible massacre of the old Amiots. British bombers certainly were shot to ribbons at Sedan in spite of all their crews' bravery and the efforts of Allied fighters. Perhaps Allied bombers made possible the escape of approx. 330,000 Allied soldiers at Dunkerque...

There were also other big escapes from many other French harbours including St-Nazaire IIRC, something like 150,000 more British and Polish troops. During the last phase of the campaign British bombers were very often used to slow down the German army. This means hitting the German troops too.
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  #27  
Old 24th February 2005, 16:28
lritger lritger is offline
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I want to thank Yves, Laurent, Ruy and Graham for continuing this discussion... I find this to be extremely valuable, and I greatly appreciate the continued input on this topic. The reason I asked the original question was to begin gaining a more thorough understanding of the French MILITARY position... I've always had a sense that they were not the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" that postwar rhetoric would have us believe, but rather were a strong and proud fighting force handicapped by poor or outmoded tactics and completely inept political "leadership", such as it was.

One interesting point raised in "Strange Victory" was the abundant overconfidence exhibited by both the British and French- to them, it seemed positively inconceivable that Germany could possibly represent more than a large nuisance. France's political leaders were unable to recover from the shock of having that theory blown out of the water in a matter of hours ... they had fallen victim to a "bunker mentality", and now the enemy was in the bunker.

Anyway, thanks again to all concerned, I'm really enjoying this discussion.

Lynn
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  #28  
Old 24th February 2005, 17:08
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Well the Anglo-French are often blaimed for that lack of action during the Phoney War, you even see some of this here in this thread, but I think the whole thing is more complex.

First the allies needed time to build up their strength as well, certainly the British could only have benefitted from a combat pause in the West. The french might arguably have started sooner, but that would have meant a winter offensive and even the french forces were in part using the time to strengthen and modernize.

Second, once the spring offensive started in the West, you might arguably say that the Allies were AGGRESSIVE to the point of thrusting their spearhead North towards Holland and Belgium. These forces contained the cream of Anglo-French units.

Rapid early movement (or falling for the german trick) by the western allies was as much a culprit of defeat as were the german mobile spearhead tactics.

Allied initiative was quickly lost.

Of course the allies could be blaimed for not starting their own spring offensive, yet could we expect such aggressive behavior from liberal democracies? We should not underestimate the influence of WW1, or more accurately, the horror of war. Personally I do not think that those who tried to maintain peace in those days deserve the bad reputation that they have today - up to Prime Minister Chamberlin!

Just think in terms of stopping the Apocalypse...

I'd try, wouldn't you (without 20-20 hindsight).
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  #29  
Old 24th February 2005, 18:56
Laurent Rizzotti Laurent Rizzotti is offline
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If French lacked some sort of courage it was not the physical courage of the soldiers, pilots or sailors but political courage before the war (Munich and so on) and then the courage to take risks and assume responsabilities by high commanders.

The whole Allied strategy in 1940 was purely defensive. The whole strategic thinking since 1918 from the winners of WWI was defensive. The losers started to imagine new tactics while the winners had obviously the good strategy.

The Allied advanced in Belgium because they were planning to arrive on fortified positions both in Belgium and Netherlands. Well existing lines (Canal Albert in Belgium and Grebe Line in Holland) were broken before their arrival and the Dyle line was hardly existing at all.

As for the reinforcement of French army during the winter of 1940, it is true but Luftwaffe and Wermacht were reinforcing at a faster pace !! For example D520 were not used in operations until mid-May 1940. On the other hand Luftwaffe replaced Bf109D with the far superior Bf109E. French were still thinking Bf109 was inferior to their fighters, but that was only true of the Bf109D that was met most of the times during the Phoney War.
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