In 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland and thus began the last “great” war….WW2….then in 1940 Hitler decided to take over the rest of Western Europe and they began with Belgium, Holland and into France…..
Many observers say that France was doomed because it depended on the Maginot Line for its defense and the Germans basically just went around the fortifications and into the heart of France…..
So the question remains…was France doomed in 1940?
France holds a unique place in the collective military psyche. Once the military paragon of Europe, the French seem to have been doomed to an inexorable decline since Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. France’s recent expeditionary achievements in Mali are praised, but within the range of small-scale operations. When it comes to major wars, many Americans remember France’s military collapse in 1940 and assume it was inevitable, since the French were stuck in the obsolete tactics of Verdun. This is not some kind of a post-2003 French non-interventionism bashing. Rather in Europe, the most severe critics are often the French themselves.
Surprisingly, it is seldom emphasized that the French could quite possibly have imagined something close to the Blitz if they had been not just one but two wars behind in 1939. Indeed, before 1914 they were the strongest advocates of the offensive, which had been taught for years at the Ecole de Guerre by future Marshal Ferdinand Foch, and theorized by the influential Colonel Louis de Grandmaison to the point of the offensive à outrance (attack with no limit). The latter was much criticized later for having inspired the bloody and failed offensives of 1914-1916. But that does not erase the fact that, in the dialectic of the cannonball and the cuirass, the advantage goes successively from one to the other. Hence, the concept of lightning war was really nothing new in 1940, especially to the French. Today, Western armies see the blitzkrieg as the quintessence of military art because it splendidly combined technological innovation with the culture of mission command.
Many stories have been told about the French in 1940 but the one that too many have overlooked is the heroism of the French army to hold off the Germans so that the English could be evacuated off the beach at Dunkirk.