France carries out a full offensive in 1939

Nov 2014
399
ph
#1
What if instead of merely attacking the border towns France carries out a offensive just to see how far they can penetrate into Germany before they are stopped? Can they reach all the way into the Ruhr or the Elbe? If France carried out a full fledged attack in 1939, will it have been sufficient to force Germany to pull out of Poland?
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,936
Dispargum
#2
There are an infinite number of variables effecting this scenario. If all of the variables were altered to France's advantage, yes, France could have forced Germany to pull out of Poland. However, if all of the variables were altered to France's advantage, then Hitler probably would not have attacked Poland to begin with.

The major variables that would have to be altered:
France should have no bitter memories of WW1 so that in 1939 they were more eager to fight
France should have drawn from her recent military history that offensive warfare is preferable or at least necessary so that they do not build the Maginot Line and develop their tanks and other offensive capabilities
There needs to be extensive pre-war contingency planning with Britain and Belgium so that all three armies can rapidly cooperate in the first days and weeks of the war

As it was, France had serious psychological and physical obstacles to a deep penetration into Germany in 1939:
They had no desire to fight.
They had no desire to get out of their Maginot Line and expose themselves to German counter-attacks
They had the wrong kinds of tanks that were unsuitable for rapid, deep penetrating attacks like the German blitzkrieg
Their logistics were not set up to sustain that kind of power projection
The Anglo-French alliance in 1939 was not as sophisticated as that same alliance was in 1914. The British Army had not maintained the contingency plans for a rapid deployment to France like they had before WW1
Not really my area but I suspect the French Air Force was too small and not suited for the type of offensive warfare you suggest in the OP. Maybe other members can comment on that
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,103
#4
Even an unsuccessful offensive could have had really important effects. if the offensive is pushed hard many lessons could have been learned.

Gamelin could have been sacked a better command structure, and some communications could have been improved before may 1940.
 
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starman

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
4,032
Connecticut
#5
What if instead of merely attacking the border towns France carries out a offensive just to see how far they can penetrate into Germany before they are stopped? Can they reach all the way into the Ruhr or the Elbe? If France carried out a full fledged attack in 1939, will it have been sufficient to force Germany to pull out of Poland?
It’s true that France had little stomach for offensives, which had proved so costly in WWI. But from what I’ve read, in September 1939 France had an overwhelming numerical advantage. As Germans stated later, success against Poland was only possible by baring our western border, and if we did not collapse in 1939 it was because the 100 or so French divisions were militarily inactive against the 7 (or 12) German divisions.
 
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redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,734
Stockport Cheshire UK
#6
. But from what I’ve read, in September 1939 France had an overwhelming numerical advantage. As Germans stated later, success against Poland was only possible by baring our western border, and if we did not collapse in 1939 it was because the 100 or so French divisions were militarily inactive against the 7 (or 12) German divisions.
Actually from what I've read the French army was not capable of a large scale offensive in September 39
The number of divisions that we're ready for offensive combat and could utilized was about the same size as the German defensive forces.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,426
#7
It's essenially what-if-they-had-done-what-de-Gaulle-told-them-to-do before the war. The conventional French military wisdom at the time seems to have been summed up in the observation, from the professors at the École de guerre, that there might well be something to de Gaulle's reasoning about modern warfare, but if France was to implement it, it would mean ensuring France lost the next war.

The French could do the maths after all. In 1939 they knew the German on the other side had a 12% numerical advantage. (94 French divisions, of which 74 were reservists, to 102 German.) Just like they knew the Germans had a numerical advantage in 1914. Except pre-1914 the French had already gone hell-for-leather towards super-aggressive offensive mindedness, to push sheer will and aggression as the means to overcome numerical and fire-power inferiority. And then they paid for it – in particular in 1915.

It's not just a matter of defensive minded "cowardly" French (and supposedly then brave offensive minded Germans), it's about stark numbers meaning the Germans could plan offensively from a position of numerical superiority all along. The French army in 1939 was the size of the French army in 1914, except years older on average, while the German army in 1939 was 600 000 stronger than the German Imperial army of 1914.

So everyone wants the French to ditch the lessons learned from WWI (hard ones, bloody), and somehow think-away their numerical inferiority?

The only thing I can think of that would allow the French to do this would be EXTREME and consistent British commitments, from the 1920's at least, to have a million+ man-army at the ready, preferably already in place in France, in 1939.

It's not that French fought badly either, whether in 1914 or 1940, WHEN they managed to control events so that they fought on terms of their choosing (Marne, Stonne etc.).

The other possibility would have been for the British to actually stick by the French, and allow them to exact the Versailles treaty terms as they saw them, by force in 1923, rather than scupper the French, sending them the message to keep their hands off Germany. Which is what the French subsequently did, opting for a purely defensive approach instead.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,180
Welsh Marches
#8
There's a great deal of truth in what you say, but the British get in the neck both ways, being blamed both for the harsh effects of the Versailles Treaty and for appeasing the Germans. In my view, Britain was right for trying to work down the worst aspects of the settlement in various ways.
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,426
#9
There's a great deal of truth in what you say, but the British get in the neck both ways, being blamed both for the harsh effects of the Versailles Treaty and for appeasing the Germans. In my view, Britain was right for trying to work down the worst aspects of the settlement in various ways.
Sure, but everyone – at least the victorious great powers – gets it in the neck anyway over that pig's ear of a situation.

The Americans shouldn't have gone home and gone isolationist in 1919, but preferably displayed some of the later 1945 wisdom about a common need to sort-out the European post-WWI situation. That was a mistake. It also effectively gutted the League of Nations initiative already before it got off the ground. Good idea in principle, horrible execution.

The UK also drew down its military like there was no tomorrow at the same time. So by default it fell to the French to be the police and provide the muscle for maintaining any WWI settlement in Europe. Which it did, with a peacetime army strength of 1,5 million still. Not a problem of French muscle, and at least initially neither a problem of French unwillingness to use it.

But that was still a bad idea, because the French really would need fx the Americans to save themselves from some of their worse tendencies towards Germany. Everyone got a French military police ready and willing to put the squeeze on Germany over the peace terms. Except when it did so for real in 1923, invasion and re-occupation, it turned out that the international community wasn't up for it. And in particular important that the UK wasn't, because for France at the time that really was the only absolutely necessary great power it needed on board.. So the French were forced to beat an ignominious retreat.

But of course it's hard to sympathize with France in 1923. Very clever people, beginning with Keynes, had already worked out how a punitive peace for Germany (the kind the French were willing and able to enforce) was a lose-lose situation. So in the aftermath of the failed French attempt to actually do some muscular policing, the settlement adressed some of the things most debilitating for Germany. And of course the Germany we are talking about is the rather nice and respectably democratic Weimar Republic, easy to sympathize with. Hell, I think I can say in 1923 I would have been livid with the French, and all for forcing them back to their barracks and stop bothering poor Germany.

The only problem is that the situation telegraphed to the French in no uncertain terms that, no, the UK was NOT on board, and pulling fast crap like this on Germany was right out for the French. So what should they do in preparation for the future? Insist no matter the cost to themselves, and lack of international support, that really they should work and plan for the invasion of Germany at some future date?

It also signalled to the Germans that their time in the French political ice-box was approaching an end. Which would be good, right? So it's the time when Germany approach the USSR and various neutrals for some much needed military cooperation and RnD for the future, while in 1925 tasking the chief of staff Gen Hans von Seeckt with drawing up the plans for a future Germany army of some 2-3 million men, to be possible to implement at short notice, a couple of years (essentially training a ridiculously huge officer corps for the tiny army allowed by treaty). And it still was just the perfectly acceptable Weimar Republic. Except, when the Nazis came to power, they could capitalize on all this preparation, and quickly...

Hindsight is 20/20 and it's really only in hindsight these things can be discerned. But the again the entire criticism of France for not being willing and able to rip Nazi Germany a new one in 1939 is ALSO a matter of hindsight to the n:th degree. Does anyone expect that to even be realistic? The French took a long, hard look at the new gambit, and in 1928 Pétain penned the plans for the future development of the French army – which under the circumstances would be defensive. (De Gaulle of course found everything wrong with it already that the time, and later observed that "Philippe Pétain was a great man who died in 1928" – precisely over the defensive imprint he put on everything.)

If people wanted someone to just hold down Germany post-WWI, and not allow it to get back up, the French were perfectly willing and able to do that. It just turned out no one was particularly happy it. So the French were forced to stand down, meaning no was really keeping tabs on Germany, and if it had just meant the peaceful development of a German democracy that would have been fine. But then there was the Great Depression, and liberal democracy in Europe mostly survived on the fringes of the continent, most importantly not in Germany. So, the best laid plans of mice and men...
 
Sep 2016
1,127
Georgia
#10
Versailles Treaty should've been much harsher than it already was , if France wanted to neutralize Germany as a threat. You either utterly destroy Germany and ensure that it won't get back up or make the original treaty not as bad.
 
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