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Old July 1st, 2012, 11:29 AM   #1

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HaltBefehl 24th May-27th May 1940, debate and theories.


The Haltbefehl, which took place between 24th and 27th May 1940 still triggers controversy 72 years on.

Following the discussion on the thread about the French Armistice of June 1940, Sylla1 pointed out that he subject would need its own dedicated thread. So here it is.



Firstly, let us review the different theories which try to explain the reasons for it.

- The OKH would have given the order, confirmed afterwards by Hitler, solely for military reasons such as terrain, supply problems, fear of counter attack. This theory usually ignores political aspects of the war, the role and broader plans of Hitler.

- Hitler gave the order because he wanted to spare the UK and let the BEF escape, probably to show his good will and hope that the UK would accept his peace offers more easily.

- Hitler gave the order, not to let the BEF escape, but to give time to French and British governements to think and face the reality of their situation which, in Hitler's plans, would lead them to acknowledge defeat and ask for immediate peace.

The first two theories have been around for a long time now, the third one being in a way the "rebel" which tends to shake certainties on what the Haltbefehl was and wasn't.




After believing for years that the main reasons were military, new research have led me to change my views and realise how the political side of events bear much of the weight in the decisions that were made.

IMO, one mistake would be to only consider the military aspect and focus on the micro-environment of the event, and ignore the macro-environment, which includes:

- Hitler's consistent attempts to woe the UK and keep them out of the war, before and after the beginning of the war.

- The fragile position of Churchill from the beginning to 1941 almost.

- The fact that the UK has never been a primary target for Hitler, who also had admiration for the Empire. The real target was France.
In this respect, Operation Sealion must be seen as nothing more than bluff, as no German commander ever took it seriously and Hitler himself officially scrapped the idea in early August 1940.

- Hitler's main objective regarding the UK was to push Churchill out/prevent him from becoming PM, and to be able to discuss with more a "reasonnable" PM, in the likes of Halifax. He was perfectly aware of dissentions among the British Cabinet and was hoping that his "reasonnable" offers would give good arguments to Appeasers and prevent hardliners such as Churchill to prevail.

- Hitler's plan was as this: offers of general peace when the Wehrmacht reaches Calais, which it did on 23rd May, if refused, conditions would be harsher after the German victory.

- The fact that Hitler was a gambler but not an idiot. He had proved this throughout the 30's, by playing with political instability in France, fear of war, fear of the "Reds", lack of resolution, Appeasement party in the UK, etc

- Destroying the BEF at Dunkirk would indeed be a military victory, but a political defeat regarding his broader plans: convincing the UK to mind its own business, and to have his hands free for the next stage of his plans.
Having the BEF stuck between the sea and German troops would be much more advantageous.

- On 24th May, evacuation of the BEF was not envisaged by German commanders or Hitler himself.

- If the fear of a counter-attack on the flanks of the advance was real during the advance, after 20th May, German commanders know full well that there was nothing left to be worried about in this respect.

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Old July 1st, 2012, 11:38 AM   #2

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As redcoat stated, how could it be hitlers objective to remove Churchill from the government when.Churchill only came to power after the Norway campaign?
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Old July 1st, 2012, 11:43 AM   #3

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And, how would it improve his chances for peace when you give the opponent an army.
If this army had been captured Churchill would be in a much weaker position.
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Old July 1st, 2012, 11:51 AM   #4

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As redcoat stated, how could it be hitlers objective to remove Churchill from the government when.Churchill only came to power after the Norway campaign?
Making sure Appeasers win the political game, preventing harldiners to come to power, in this case Churchill.

During the weeks and months preceding 10th May, there was a sort of indirect duel between Hitler and Churchill, through Churchill's battle within its own governement and Hitler's attempts to win Appeasers' "support" in accepting his offers for peace, while Chruchill was doing all he could to prevent this from happening.

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Old July 1st, 2012, 11:53 AM   #5

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I have always accepted the second of the reasons you give for the order. But after reaing your third option, which i have never considered before, that makes sense as well.

As you rightly say, the UK was not a prim target for Germany. But despite Hitlers claim in Mein Kampf that the French were hated by Germans, i feel the same is true for France. I have always believed that the western campaign was nothing more than an un wanted distraction.

Had Hitler been able to get peace sooner and with less lose to the German forces, all the better for the real war to come.
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Old July 1st, 2012, 11:56 AM   #6

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And, how would it improve his chances for peace when you give the opponent an army.
If this army had been captured Churchill would be in a much weaker position.
No one, whether on the British or the German side had any idea of how things would turn out.
The Germans didn't even think about the possibility for the BEF to evacuate, let alone so many men.
This is an a posteriori judgement, made in hindsight.

If this army had been captured or destroyed, it might have pissed the Brits off to the point of no return. It is easy for us today to see it differently, but it was part of Hitler's gamble. He lost, but that's the point of gambling, you never know for sure if the risks you take will bear fruit.
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Old July 1st, 2012, 12:00 PM   #7

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As redcoat stated, how could it be hitlers objective to remove Churchill from the government when.Churchill only came to power after the Norway campaign?
Which means Churchill was in power when the Hlat Order was given doens't it. So makes perfect sense.
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Old July 1st, 2012, 12:09 PM   #8

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As you rightly say, the UK was not a prim target for Germany. But despite Hitlers claim in Mein Kampf that the French were hated by Germans, i feel the same is true for France. I have always believed that the western campaign was nothing more than an un wanted distraction.
I think the fact that beating France was clearly one his main aims is irrefutable.
His aim was to beat France, make peace with Britain and move on to the next step in the east.

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Had Hitler been able to get peace sooner and with less lose to the German forces, all the better for the real war to come.
This is another interesting argument for the third theory, I think.
Considering what Hitler was aiming at, resting his troops during the time he gave French and British governement to "think" can be considered as a pragmatic move, to save his forces for the next step of the Campaign, Fall Rot.
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Old July 1st, 2012, 12:11 PM   #9

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Which means Churchill was in power when the Hlat Order was given doens't it. So makes perfect sense.
Precisely, and even more so if you remember how hard a time Churchill was having within the governement. He was PM yes, but his position was fragile and uncertain, so again a good opportunity for Hitler to push and give arguments to Appeasers and get rid of him.
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Old July 1st, 2012, 12:14 PM   #10

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Originally Posted by Frog33inUK View Post
I think the fact that beating France was clearly one his main aims is irrefutable.
His aim was to beat France, make peace with Britain and move on to the next step in the east..
I think this is true only in so far as France, and Britain, declared war on Germany. Clearly, had France sued for peace, Germany would have had to make sure they couldnt be a treat later on.
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