Post by Insane Ranter Post by Alex Milman Post by WolfBear
How would France have fared in World War II had Britain stayed neutral but also had France had better generals during this time?
The whole French army was not adequate for the task and just changing the generals would not be enough.
Would it not depend on "when" the generals were changed? If France gets a few more forward-thinking Generals in the 1920s. And they modernize thing a little bit more would it not change somethings?
Changing French military "a little bit" would be like powdering a dirty neck. :-)
There would be a need in the fundamental changes on all levels and not only in a leadership but in the whole military structure, especially organization of the mechanized units (German style) and training of the non-coms and low rank officers.
Unlike Germany, where reforms were supported both by Weimar Republic and by the Nazis, French will to do the same is anything but clear (I was under impression that such a will was mostly absent) and I'm not sure that anybody short of an absolute military genius (or even such a genius) could win a modern war with inadequate tool.
(data below are from http://conflictuel.pagesperso-orange.fr/LGGtemp/ARMORED%20UNITS%20IN%20THE%201940%20WESTERN%20CAMPAIGN.pdf)
German Panzer Division typically included 2 Panzer regiments, 2 regiments of Panzergrenadier (mechanized infantry), an artillery regiment and one each of motorcycle, reconnaissance, tank destroyer, engineer, and signal battalions.
IIRC, by 1940 Germans had 10 Panzer divisions.
By 1940 French had DLM (3 total, 2 effective) and DCR (3 not quite completed and 1 created on the field during May 1940) units with the structures close to the German Panzer divisions.
However, German Panzer division had approximately 12.5K men with 220 - 340 tanks and more artillery than DLM or DLC (especially AA and AT types).
DLM had approximately 10.4K men (1 infantry regiment) and 174 tanks; DCR - 6.4K (1 infantry battalion) and 142 (infantry) tanks.
Then there were conceptual differences. "The DLM has to provide intelligence and to make deep reconnaissance, to cover the deployments of the French armies and to fight the enemy AFVs. Once engaged, the DLM will fight like the Panzerdivision but without the massive air support and the numerous spotter aircrafts of the Germans. In Hannut for example each DLM had only 3 modern spotter aircrafts available.
The DCR has by far not the power or the mobility of a Panzerdivision. A DCR remains subordinated to an infantry army which leads the manoeuvre at his own rhythm. The DCR is used for local counter-attacks, heavy charges like an armored fist, but not deeper than 15-25 km. It is rather a "defensive war hammer", powerful but slow, compared to the "offensive and fine sword" constituted by a Panzerdivision.
The French armored units were not a separate arm ; they were depending from the infantry or the cavalry in 1940. The French tanks were intended to work closely with the infantry, allowing it to advance from one specific target to an other. French armored units are meant to fill a gap in a front, to counter-attack against an enemy offensive, to delay the enemy long enough to enable the deployment of infantry division on a rear frontline or to piece the enemy lines but only 15-25 km deep. A German Panzerdivision is able to penetrate 100 km in the rear of the enemy lines before having to be supplied. The German Panzerwaffe was organized for the kind of war it wanted to fight in 1940. It was independent and in the center of the operational chain unlike the French armored units. Everything around was subordinated to it or thought to support it.
One must add that the German doctrine for the Panzerwaffe was very often to avoid combat against the French tanks. The Luftwaffe and/or AT guns had to neutralize the enemy tanks. They engaged AT guns, 8.8cm FlaK and 10.5cm field guns in direct fire against the tanks while the German tanks went deeper in the French lines, spreading like water and disorganizing the rear lines.
On 10th May 1940, there are 2636 German tanks, 99 Panzerjäger I, 24 Sturmgeschütze, 38 15cm s.I.G.33 auf Pz.Kpfw.I, 6 8.8cm FlaK (Sfl) auf Sd.Kfz. 8 and 917 armored cars for a total of 3720 AFVs. 965 tanks are armed with a 3.7cm or 7.5cm gun, 99 Panzerjäger I with a 4.7cm gun and 24 StuG III with a 7.5cm gun. That leads to 1088 German AFVs armed with a good AT capacity (not counting the 6 8.8cm self-propelled AT guns).
There are 2307 modern French tanks (2777 tanks with the obsolete FT17 and FCM-2C tanks) and about 575 armored cars or light reconnaissance tanks. That makes 3056 French tanks (if the AMR33/35s are counted as tanks) : • only about 480 French tanks armed with a 47mm SA35 (including the B1bis tanks with their 75mm hull gun) • about 300-350 which have a 37mm SA38 gun. • from the 279 AMR33/35s, 259 are only armed with a single 7.5mm or 13.2mm MG and 20 AMR35 have a 25mm SA35 gun, which is also better than the German 3.7cm gun. That makes 800-850 French tanks (26-28%) with an excellent to good anti-tank capacity.
The huge majority of the French tanks (2206-2256 tanks) are light tanks armed with the 37mm SA18 gun or only MGs. The 37mm SA18 gun can be used at 300-400m against the Panzer I and Panzer II but to knock out a Panzer III Ausf.E/F (the previous models are less armored and easier to destroy) or a Panzer IV Ausf.C/D, they have to get as close as < 25-100m, whereas the enemy can destroy them at about 300m (3.7cm KwK) to 500m (7.5cm KwK) and even from longer range if you consider the obsolete Renault FT17.
All the about 3000 German tanks are concentrated in the 10 Panzerdivisionen unlike only about 960 French tanks in the DCR/DLM. Each DCR/DLM has less tanks than a Panzerdivision : there are roughly 10x300 German tanks against 6x160 French tanks and many dispersed battalions.
The DLMs were led by the cavalry corps HQ and the different DCRs were commanded by an armored group HQ. Nevertheless, these HQs had insufficient means unlike the Panzerkorps which had fully operational HQs. "
Then comes training. In France only 1st DLM "has been very well trained for long, all the crew were highly motivated and knew very well their tanks (mechanics, functions, armament, tactics) etc. The division had practised division-scaled trainings and inter-arms trainings (tanks + infantry + artillery) before the war."
OTOH, on the German side, as soon as 1935 the forming Panzerdivisionen had a coherent and continual training. "The maneuvers in Czechoslovakia allowed to train massive movements and the combats in Poland allowed to modify/adapt and modernize the Panzerwaffe which proved not sufficient in several cases and which was not concentrated in Poland."
Then the French would need an air force equal to Luwtwaffe (which meant almost double the numbers and probably to upgrade the stock as well), etc.
As you can see, just few better generals may not be enough. :-)