Is the Manstein Plan (Sickle Cut) main reason of France's defeat in 1940 or are there other main reasons ?

Apr 2014
404
Istanbul Turkey
Was Manstein's Ardennes breakthrough at Sedan with all panzer divisions and rapid march to Channel idea main reason for French defeat that turned to debacle afterwards ? Or were there other fundementai reasons like German operational warware culture of missin oriented approach (that allowed leeway to commanders like Guderian , Hoth , Rommel to march as much as they could regardless of Halt orders from above) weakness of French high command organisation , communication , slow reactişon of French High Command General Staff ?

Could Manstein Plan , Sedan beakthrough and Sickle Cut though Northern France be beaten ?
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,640
Was Manstein's Ardennes breakthrough at Sedan with all panzer divisions and rapid march to Channel idea main reason for French defeat that turned to debacle afterwards ? Or were there other fundementai reasons like German operational warware culture of missin oriented approach (that allowed leeway to commanders like Guderian , Hoth , Rommel to march as much as they could regardless of Halt orders from above) weakness of French high command organisation , communication , slow reactişon of French High Command General Staff ?

Could Manstein Plan , Sedan beakthrough and Sickle Cut though Northern France be beaten ?
factors in order

1/strategy & lack of reserves.

It could have been beaten. It could quite possibility have been a diaster. If the Allies had a powerful mobile reserve that cut the panzers off. (though such a reserve does not mean automatically that it could do the job, but it would have made it not without very dangerous possibilities.)

The Revised dyle plan without any real reserve was the worst possible plan to counter the sickle cut plan.

2/ command and control (high level)

The French command and communication issues, two competing HQs communicating via dispatch riders. We're not talking a radio in every tank, or company but the lack of effetcive radio comuication at the higher levels made French responses to changing circumstances desperately slow.

3/ doctrine
French doctrine of methodological battle.

4/ Air force co-ordination and co-operation.
Air forces were new a new arm that normally was fighting desperate turf battles to surive as an independent arm. The Love affair by many commanding air focres with strategic bombing in the interwar period was inpart it was a task the air force performed alone without being subordinated to the Army. The German tatical air force and it's co-ordintaion was mostly accidental rather than a clearly throughout strategic choice. Another example of the sad tale of interservice rivalries and power games is Fleet Air Ar/Coastal Command, last for getting decent air craft.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
When a plan like that meets success it means that on the other side they didn't prevent the context which allowed such a victory.

France, in the perspective of a possible further conflict against Germany, concentrated resources on defensive structures and ground forces. Without developing efficient battlefield communication tactics [lack of radio devices, just to say] and without preparing a suitable Air Force.

Moreover, France trusted the Maginot line and thought that German wasn't going to attack for real ... [think to the phony war. Why didn't the allies attack first?].

But the main mistake was about the Air Force: the Luftwaffe deployed almost two times the planes that the French were able to send against them. Clearly Germany had prepared very well the Blitzkrieg, while France didn't [like the allies].
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
To change the situation France had to understand the German new idea to find a "Schwerpunkt" where to concentrate the forces during the attack to be able to break through the defenive lines of the enemy. French forces remained too scattered to face such a tactic.

With this, Paris had to think tot the Air Force in the 30's, improving it and increasing the number of operative combat planes [fighters and bombers]. But this required time ... years of preparation [so if they made a less impressive Maginot line and more modern fighters ...].

Then they needed to develop better communications.

So ...

* better communication
* good intelligence to discover where the Germans were going to attack
* concentration of divisions in the area of the incoming German attack
* better Air Force with well more planes
* less resources for the Maginot Line [so a less heavy line]

In this context ...

The French Air Force [with the allied ones] could have stopped the Luftwaffe, allowing the armored divisions to concentrate themselves in front of the forwarding enemies. Without air superiority there is even the possibility that the Germans had forced to renounce to the Blitzkrieg ... and we would have seen an other WWI style front ...
 

Larrey

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Sep 2011
5,810
I think this was well adressed already by Pugsville.

Just thinking about, Manstein's plan largely accomplished all that the German wanted to accomplish (the non-destruction of the BEF being a major hiccup) also because it was what Germany needed to accomplish under the circumstances.

It clearly wasn't without its risks. Afaiu one of them was simply a kind of "mission creep" – if the Germans couldn't knock France out at roughly the pace it did in 1940, by that time Germany also had not prepared for anything like a long and grinding war. So IF the French, with the British (and Belgian) allies could have managed a "Marne" style reversal, and stop the relentless German forward momentum, at some point the German would have had to slow down also for lack of supplies, carburants etc. And if that had happened possibly there could have been time for the Allies to digest the lessons of fighting this new German army, and set about retooling their own, and start fighting back more effectively.

It's clearly not a matter of the Germans outright losing the war without Manstein's plan, but without that bit of a gamble, it's likely to have been slower, and it might not had developed into that startling complete and rapid victory?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The quick defeat of France had also a great impact at level of motivation and self-confidence; on the Germans in positive and on the allies in negative. The Germans realized that even the Great France wasn't able to face their new technological army.

Actually I think that this excess of self-confidence [well feeded also by the Nazi ideology about the superiority of the German Aryans] is among the reasons why at the end Germany lost the war in a bad way: it wasn't a marvelous idea to invade the USSR, but they were absolutely certain to have no comparable rivals.

If Germany respected the pact signed with Russia about Poland, the conflict would have been well different. But to keep the European Fortress without the resources of USSR was almost impossible in the long term. So the end would have been the same, the development of the war would have been different.
 

pugsville

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Oct 2010
9,640
* better communication
.
Which would have been easy NOT havingt two competing HQ for starters and actuality using radios at the top level
They had the radios, the trainingand the ability to do so,

* good intelligence to discover where the Germans were going to attack
.
They had the intelligence they just did not listen to it.
Intelligence was just not taken seriously as a part of the French military,

* concentration of divisions in the area of the incoming German attack
.
No, they just needed a reserve. The Dyle plan before revision had a powerfuil modbil reserve.
Any reasonably central loctaion in the Northern front would have been well placed to counter the German breakthrough.

* better Air Force with well more planes
.
The extreme slowness in the French plane development/production/delivery cycle was just very slow,
They had some reasonable (not great but reasonable) they just reached service so slowly in such low numbers,

The Co-ordination betwene army and air force was poor. Germany had Spain and Poland to work a lot of this stuff out.
The Modbilization or Austria and Czechslovkia also showed up problems that the Germans got to address,

* less resources for the Maginot Line [so a less heavy line]
.
none of the points above were compromised by building the Maginot line.
The French were facing a more populous nation with a much bigger industriual base.
 
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pugsville

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Oct 2010
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The quick defeat of France had also a great impact at level of motivation and self-confidence; on the Germans in positive and on the allies in negative. The Germans realized that even the Great France wasn't able to face their new technological army.
.
The COnetxt that in teh previous great war, the french had been much tougher oppoents whiel tehRussians had been beaten by the imperial German army. Psychologically they had done the hard task that their fathers had not.

If Germany respected the pact signed with Russia about Poland, the conflict would have been well different. But to keep the European Fortress without the resources of USSR was almost impossible in the long term. So the end would have been the same, the development of the war would have been different.
There is little reason to expect Stalin to respect the pact. Both sides were smiling but their hands firmly clasped knives behind their backs, the alliance was always viewed as temporary by both parties. I thinbk Stalkin was banking on a long atttrional war in teh west while he built his army. Stalin was a problem that Hitler could not just ignore. Was the task going to get easier or harder over time? Invading the soveit Union is oftenn called a msiatke. I not convinced. 1942 the Russians would have been stronger, the Germans not so much. Sometimes you don;t have great choices.
 
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AlpinLuke

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Oct 2011
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The COnetxt that in teh previous great war, the french had been much tougher oppoents whiel tehRussians had been beaten by the imperial German army. Psychologically they had done the hard task that their fathers had not.



There is little reason to expect Stalin to respect the pact. Both sides were smiling but their hands firmly clasped knives behind their backs, the alliance was always viewed as temporary by both parties. I thinbk Stalkin was banking on a long atttrional war in teh west while he built his army. Stalin was a problem that Hitler could not just ignore. Was the task going to get easier or harder over time? Invading the soveit Union is oftenn called a msiatke. I not convinced. 1942 the Russians would have been stronger, the Germans not so much. Sometimes you don;t have great choices.
The real mistake was geopolitical: USSR was part of the wrong global strategy ... Germany was a not enormous country in the middle of Europe, without long coasts and not so near to important resources [for example oil]. It was impossible [this is what Hitler and the German leadership didn't understand] for Germany, even with that extraordinary army, to sustain a long war effort at global level. Moreover Germany had some pivotal defects regarding global wars. A part the problem of the resoruces, they didn't grasp a basic concept about projecting force at global level. Despite they had a great Air Force and they understood how to use it to get air superiority, they didn't think to supply mobile air coverage to the Navy. In this they were like Italians: they believed in battleships, thinking that carriers weren't that useful.

Just WWII has demonstrated that a mobile air coverage is essential in a modern global war. Let's remember that the Bismark had destroyed thanks to the decisive contribution of the planes embarked on a British carrier. Italians realized this too late and we built some carriers, but we never used them. Germans tried and use one of them at the end of the war.

So the point is very simple: Germany wasn't in the conditions to win a global war against all.
 
Nov 2010
1,280
Bordeaux
Concerning the Maginot Line, I'll start with debunking an old myth.
Its role was NOT to stop a German invasion, stricktly speaking.

Its purpose was:
1. To protect the industrial and resource base of the country, considering that a vast proportion of French industries and mines were located in the north-east of the country, a stone's throw away from the German border, which was quite unfortunate.
2. Its operational function was to delay a German offensive, in order to give enough time for the mobilisation to take place and troops to achieve the planned order of battle.
3. The French never hoped the Maginot Line would deter the Germans from attacking and stop them.

For me, the main reason for the quick defeat in 1940 was the absence of a dual-front alliance with Russia, as in 1914.
In 1914, the alliance with Russia saved the Franco-British forces from annihilation from the beginning.
The difference in demographics and industrial output, both in 1914 and 1940, meant that France alone, with limited support from the UK, would never be able to sustain a German offensive.
The fierce anti-communist feelings shared by politicians in Britain and France prevented such an alliance, although some French politicians and the Soviets did try for years.
This led to the German-Soviet non-agression pact, as Stalin understood he could expect nothing from the French and British in this respect. The pact was the only way for him to buy time for his army to recover from the purges and reorganise in the face of a German threat he knew was very real. He had understood it wasn't a question of "if" but "when".

This being said, the French may have had a chance of holding on without Russian support, but then the French army was plagued by too many flaws for this to ever happen.

- First, as mentioned before by Pugsville, communications at the highest and lowest levels were dismal.
The French did have radios, albeit in very few tanks and vehicules, but their quality was so poor they were virtually useless.
They kept breaking down and when they did work, a simple line of trees was enough to block any transmission.
Had all French tanks and aircraft been equiped with such radios, they wouldn't have made much difference.
Better quality models were due to enter service later in 1940 but it was... too late!
The best word I can think of to describe the state of French communications in 1940 is "chaos".
And it is actually the most commonly word used by French veterans of the May-June 1940 campaign when they talk about it.

- Second, the French war industry was rather disorganised, with many small to medium sized manufacturers of tanks and especially aircraft.
No manufacturer was able to produce equipments in large numbers at a fast pace.

- Third, French tanks were very badly designed, as a result of budget restrictions and limitations imposed by international disarmament talks held during the inter-war period.
There were also too many competing projects which were never properly designed or finalized, resulting in waste of time, resources and money.
Much has been said about the superior fighting qualities of French tanks or their infantry support design being their main flaw.
I would say things are slightly more complicated, or more simple, than that.

The case of the B1 tank is a good example.
This is the perfect case of a half-baked project, which lingered for years and which completion was hurried as the reality of war got clearer.
The French army wanted a heavy battletank but without really knowing what to do with it, and the B1 project came to life. First considered too expensive, then too heavy as it contravened the disarmament treaties limiting tank weight to 15t (or was it 20t, can't remember?), the project was put on hold and resumed several times, to end up being pushed too late, ending in a botched tank with absolutely no established doctrine of use. The French High Command just hoped it would do.

The Somua S35, consiedered to be the best French tank of the time, more like the "least worst", was available in limited numbers, again due to budget cuts, and low manufacturing capacities.

Both suffered from the same flaw, and the worst of all: the horrendous one-man APX turret.
The visibility from the tank and firing rate were abysmal, as was the case for all French tanks.
Both tanks had good armour, overall better than their German counterparts, and were equiped with the excellent SA-37 47mm gun, also better than their German counterparts, but the horrendous turret negated the good armour and firepower and just killed these tanks' efficiency in battle.
Accessibility to and from the tanks was also disastrous, which pretty much condemned most tank crews to death once their tank had been hit, even when they survived the hit itself.
Add to that a terrible refuelling system, the absence of radios, and a half-baked doctrine of use, and you get a picture of what the French tank crews had to deal with, before even meeting a German tank in battle.

Fourth, the French Air Force was in a catastrophic state.
It was scattered all along the front from the Belgian border to the Italian border, had no real doctrine of use, was neither independent nor integrated in inter-arms tactical units, as was the case in the German army.
Most aircraft in service in 1940 were outdated, there were far too many different models in service (around 15 just for the fighters, if I remember correctly) which made maintenance a real nightmare.
There were only 36 modern Dewoitine D520 fighters in service on 10th May 1940, and eventhough the French manufacturer achieved a feat by delivering massive numbers during the campaign, the pilots who got them had had no training on them, and many aircraft, if not most, never reached the units and were captured by the Germans in June.
There are accounts of pilots having to steal private cars to drive back 400km to the factory during the battle and flying back to the front with ther new aircraft.
The French Air Force ended the campaign with more aircraft available than at the beginning of it, but most were never used.
In the end, the French Air Force lost over 1,000 aircraft in total, for around 450 victories in combat. Numbers do speak for themselves...

Fifth, early June, the French still had something like 30 divisions sitting behind the Maginot Line but they never thought it a good idea to actually use them. It's beyond belief.

Add to all this the huge mistakes made by the French HC, sometimes resembling stupidity, General Huntziger's unbilievable responsibility in the collapse of the Meuse front on 15th May (he was offered reinforcements and said no, then was offered air support - for once avaible - and said no. Again, it's beyond belief), and you get a picture of why France collapsed so quickly in 1940, while sustaining around 200,000 casualties in just 6 weeks (65,000 KIA and 130,000 wounded), which proves that they "fought like lions against impossible odds" as General von Reichenau put it at the beginning of June 1940.
 
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