1940–Was France Truly Doomed?

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.[1] 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.


11 thoughts on “1940–Was France Truly Doomed?

  1. They also evacuated close to 80,000 French troops from Dunkirk, but the 40,000 rearguard did a good job of holding back the Germans, before they eventually surrendered. I have often wondered if they had a defeat mentality where the Germans were concerned though. They had lost to them in 1871, and almost in 1914 too. Then there was the blatant collaboration in at least half of the country, following surrender. No doubt each Frenchman at the time would have had a different view of the whys and wherefores, and I was not even born, I cannot say much more than that.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I found the leadership in 1940 interesting…..depending on the “Line” to hold back the Germans….a little too trusting….chuq

  2. I have an observation more or less triggered by your first sentence.. “In 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland….”

    When I was young and growing up the family gettogethers and places where adults gathered, the men in attendance were many times veterans of WW2 and since that, and Korea, had been the only wars-of-reference to that point in time, the guys would spin their war stories. But they always included references to the European part of the War with the enemy being “Germans’ or “Krauts”. They were the Greatest Generation and they had full entitlement to refer to the enemy of their day anyway they wished. But as the years have progressed and this politically correct nonsense filled society.. we’ve drifted away from calling the enemy in WW2 as “the Germans”.. and we now apparently assign WW2 to “the Nazis”. I can certainly understand the current preference. We certainly don’t refer to the Pacific enemy of that war as “Japs” anymore but that’s ok as using it is acceptable if you are recalling your own story about your experience in Saipan, or some such place; “killing Japs” was a part of your life, so you earned permission to use it in that context.

    My issue is with those other folks.. the Germans. We seldom say “the Germans invaded Poland” because that conjures up nasty feelings against contemporary Germans… and constantly picks at the scab of collective German “healing” as the passage of time begins to blur the crime. But there’s also the historically inaccuracy in saying the “Nazis” did everything in WW2 Europe. The Nazis were a political party. The military was made up mostly of non-Nazis, albeit everyone tends to collectively think the SS, or Waffen SS, carried the load in fighting and killing. Being a card carrying Nazi was required to be with that bunch. The military officer corps generally were required to be in the Nazi party… but not so with the average soldier, sailor, or airman. You can safely say the the Nazis caused the war as that party was in power, and the military was led by officers in the Nazi party… but it was definitely the Germans.. the German populace represented in spirit, and members of the military who did the invading and fighting.

    The Germans did the invading. Plain and simple.

    1. I’m not entirely sure what the argument is here. Maybe it’s just a terminology thing. (Even so, the terminology is still wrong)…But since when do I let that stop me from a good rant? (Apologies in advance.)

      “Simple” certainly does NOT apply. Nothing is simple about any war. This is as “simple” as WW2 gets: The Nazi Party ordered the war and directed it. (Started great. Went somewhat downhill after that.) German Soldiers fought the “war” part of the war and did FAR more of the “dying” than the people in charge did. (A shocking number of them wound up “vacationing” in South America after the war…or employed by North American governments to spy on Lefties & launch missiles into space.) The SS & Gestapo did nearly all the nasty shit during the war (and largely in secret) that most “pre-politically correct” people like to blame an entire ethnic group for. (Germans existed well beyond the borders of Germany, especially pre-WW2. A post WW2 ethnic cleanse dramatically reduced those numbers.)

      Had Germany won the war, those nasty actions would be little known of today. Only now would some highly blacked out documents be getting released to an uncaring public. That’s just how shit works. Winners bury their dirty secrets while exposing those of the vanquished. (As a “what if” example, see the Rutger Hauer movie “Fatherland”.)

      But I DO know my German dad & grandmother didn’t invade anything. Nor did they support any invasion anywhere. They actually fled invading forces twice that war. First Soviet, then American. But that didn’t stop Canadian kids from beating the snot out of my dad’s “Nazi ass” right through the 50’s. Shit, even I had it wiped in my face as a kid by polite Canadian kids decades later. Lucky for me, I wasn’t as emaciated as my father was and kicked enough asses to make it stop.

      To my knowledge, no German relative or family friend ever voted Nazi. Although, a longstanding family rumour has a 2nd cousin guarding the Fuhrer-bunker as a teenager. (See: the movie “Downfall” as to how that ended for him.) My “uncle” spent most of the war being used as “unpaid labour” for a British farm family. Technically, you could call that “slave labour”. But they got along so well, they exchanged Christmas & birthday letters until their deaths in the 90’s. My “auntie” was frogmarched as a teen through Buchenwald, totally oblivious to what had gone on there. She never slept that well afterwards. My German grandfather was the most involved. He was “lucky” enough to fight in both wars. He refused to discuss either war beyond “Krieg. Das ist alles Scheiße!” Or something to that effect. My German blows. From what little I was told, he spent some time freezing his nuts off on the Eastern front. Good times. Simple times.

      I’m NOT saying the argument is devoid of merit…But this collective guilt logic of “the Germans did it” (actually “Germany did it” is more accurate) is a bit of a “glass houses” thing. America is currently invading & fighting in…Jesus!…far more countries than Germany did. All over the damn globe. And despite the fact the average American can’t even name half the nations America is fighting in…that logic still dictates the American populace is collectively responsible for the invasions and killing….Actually, it’s the same “logic” behind flying planes into buildings full of civilians. So, I’m not encouraging it for two reasons.

      But for that matter…everything else in the American government did in its past must also be the fault of its citizens. From invading everything west of the Appalachian mountains, to slavery, to native genocide, etc…right up until today’s invasions. “Plain & simple”, right?

      1. I’ll accept your passion and compassion for your ancestor family. You and I did not live through those times to appreciate the moral responsibility, albeit we have relatives who lived and/or fought on opposite sides and heard the stories. Your history I can agree with and the movies you cite all were good. One of the most “colorful” fellows I encountered was a Germans gentleman who with his family rented a townhouse next to us. This was in the mid 1980’s. He had two daughters that were very Americanized.. no accents. Being a “war wonk” history buff it was easy for me to assign interest in what their story might have been. Based on the age of their daughters I surmised that the parents came from Germany after the war. So I was very interested in learning their life story… especially the father. As we got friendly as neighbors over the years I did manage one Summer day to get him at the right time where he was willing to chat with me.

        As he chatted it was easy for me to reference the times and places.. and even the equipment he used… and I think he was comfortable with me more. He told me when he enlisted in the Luftwaffe and got assigned to an armored detachment that provided base security. He became a tank commander (Feldwebel.. sergeant) under Rommel in North Africa. As the Brits were pushing the Germans to the northern coast he was captured by the Brits. The Americans had already landed and became part of that push. The Brits turned him over to the Americans and he finished out the war moving from prison camps in England, Canada, and the U.S. After the war he was repatriated and after a couple years married, then left the post-war devastation and suffering and moved to the States. Obviously from the way he talked and putting the time frames together I had no problem believing who he was…. and not some renegade war criminal. After that we became fairly good buddies. But finally he died.

        One day his wife had come over to thank my ex-wife (she was a nurse) for having checked on him during his illness. She turned to me to ask what seemed like a nervous question. She knew her hubby and I had talked about his war experiences. In all their marriage he had refused to talk to her at all about his war stories. I was surprised given I didn’t find anything disturbing at all. She said he had trusted me because of my interest in the history.. and not in passing judgement. I shared with her as much as he told me.. and she was very happy about that.

      2. Your friends North African tale reminds me of another great film about the era… Patton. Some really good battle and especially post-battle-carnage scenes…and also looks into the mentality of those involved (rivalry, ambition, “invade Moscow”, etc.)

        From everything I’ve heard & seen, it’s absolutely astounding how well most German prisoners and most rural Brits got along, even while their nations were obliterating each other. Then again, those same Brits were my mom’s side of the family. (Yup, I’m a product of a “mixed marriage”!) Funny how when you slap a uniform on people, tell them “they’re evil and out to kill you”…suddenly they start killing each other, often in “unprofessional” ways. It’s the worthless, so-called, “leaders” who start all the bullshit, fan the flames to their political advantage, yet somehow almost NEVER pay for it. (Hmm, sounds vaguely familiar.) Makes you wonder what would happen if they called a war and nobody showed up to fight it.

        Naw, I wasn’t pissed, or anything. (You should see me when I’m pissed.) I knew it was more a “terminology” issue than anything else. Which dictated that I -er- “further clarify your terminology” and point out the risks associated, especially when blame is being dished out. “The nation of Germany invaded” vs “Germans invaded” (In general, use the more specific…German Army, the SS, the Nazis, or whatever applies to the specific situation. Germans are sticklers for even the most minor of details…trains running on time, etc)

        It’s hard for us to fathom today. But before the war, there were sizable German populations (Dad’s family among them) living as German Communities…in places like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Northern Italy…probably others. Many of those Germans were, ironically, “re-settled” after the war. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_and_expulsion_of_Germans_(1944%E2%80%9350) Oh, and a truly surprising amount of Germans lived in South America. Only a small percentage of them were setting up post WW2 “contingency plans” for others still in Germany. Germans just like to “travel to” other countries, one way or another.

        So what one government did should not be pinned on anybody but that government (and given the specific situation, it’s supporters), especially in this messy case. (aka “The epitome of evil”.) Shit went down in Germany few except those in the inside loop had any clue about at the time. (Again, as it seems you’ve seen it, the interesting Rutger Hauer movie.) Even today, most government secrets remain pretty secret.

        In conclusion, (finally!) everybody should avoid making “collective guilt” statements. Collective guilt takes everyone to a place they shouldn’t want to go and “justifies” punishments/reactions… that in turn justify future punishments/reactions. (See: Israel-Palestine. Those ass-clowns can go back Millennia blaming the other side for their actions.) And like so many others, America lives in a “glass house”..especially today. Under Orange Mussolini, shit is just too unstable already.

    1. I tried to leave a comment there yesterday and that stupid “You’re a spammer” screen came up again.

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