Discussion:
France's performance in WWII without Britain but also with better generals
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WolfBear
2017-10-09 19:17:12 UTC
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It isn't very realistic for Britain to remain neutral in a World War II where Nazi Germany is involved. However, out of curiosity, I decided to ask about this hypothetical scenario:

How would France have fared in World War II had Britain stayed neutral but also had France had better generals during this time? In other words, while Britain stays neutral in this TL's World War II, France's military also has better leadership in 1939-1940 and thus keeps the French Seventh Army stationed at Rheims (as per the original plan) instead of sending it over to the Low Countries.

Also, France would still be able to purchase military equipment from Britain and the U.S. in this TL; indeed, it would simply have to fight Nazi Germany alone once Poland falls.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on this scenario? Would France be able to successfully blockade Nazi Germany by itself? Also, would France be able to overcome Nazi Germany's two-to-one advantage in population and defeat it?
Alex Milman
2017-10-09 21:12:30 UTC
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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.
Post by WolfBear
In other words, while Britain stays neutral in this TL's World War II, France's military also has better leadership in 1939-1940 and thus keeps the French Seventh Army stationed at Rheims (as per the original plan) instead of sending it over to the Low Countries.
As it was, the French army would be defeated unless Germans made some fundamental blunders.
Insane Ranter
2017-10-10 01:28:09 UTC
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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?
Alex Milman
2017-10-10 03:43:01 UTC
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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. :-)
Ed Stasiak
2017-10-12 04:36:17 UTC
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Post by The Horny Goat
Alex Milman
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.
The French armored divisions (DCR) weren’t formed until late 1939 after they saw
what the Germans did in Poland and the divisions were poorly organized and lacked
training, as the manuals and procedures had only been put together in Feb ’39 while
the Char B1 tanks (of which the French had too few to begin with) were badly designed
and unreliable, developed for a WWI type battlefield that wouldn’t happen this time
around.
Post by The Horny Goat
only about 480 French tanks armed with a 47mm SA35 (including the B1bis tanks
with their 75mm hull gun)
The 75mm gun was useless against enemy tanks as it was intended for firing HE
against trench lines and having _no traverse_ it was aimed by the driver using the
tank’s pneumatic transmission (which broken down regularly) to “shimmy” the
whole tank from side to side to aim the gun.
Post by The Horny Goat
25mm SA35 gun, which is also better than the German 3.7cm gun.
The French SA34 was capable of 23mm of armor penetration at 500 meters vs.
29mm for the Germany 37mm, so while it wasn’t much worse, the German gun
also had HE rounds available.
Post by The Horny Goat
The 37mm SA18 gun can be used at 300-400m against the Panzer I and Panzer II
Barely, being capable of only 14mm penetration but with a muzzle velocity of only
600 meters per second, longer range hits were pretty unlikely.
Post by The Horny Goat
As you can see, just few better generals may not be enough. :-)
Indeed, without the British, the French would have fallen sooner and harder and any
alt-timeline where the French do better, would have to have a much earlier POD.
pyotr filipivich
2017-10-12 16:32:20 UTC
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Post by The Horny Goat
Alex Milman
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.
The French armored divisions (DCR) weren’t formed until late 1939 after they saw
what the Germans did in Poland and the divisions were poorly organized and lacked
training, as the manuals and procedures had only been put together in Feb ’39 while
the Char B1 tanks (of which the French had too few to begin with) were badly designed
and unreliable, developed for a WWI type battlefield that wouldn’t happen this time
around.
Post by The Horny Goat
only about 480 French tanks armed with a 47mm SA35 (including the B1bis tanks
with their 75mm hull gun)
The 75mm gun was useless against enemy tanks as it was intended for firing HE
against trench lines and having _no traverse_ it was aimed by the driver using the
tank’s pneumatic transmission (which broken down regularly) to “shimmy” the
whole tank from side to side to aim the gun.
Post by The Horny Goat
25mm SA35 gun, which is also better than the German 3.7cm gun.
The French SA34 was capable of 23mm of armor penetration at 500 meters vs.
29mm for the Germany 37mm, so while it wasn’t much worse, the German gun
also had HE rounds available.
Post by The Horny Goat
The 37mm SA18 gun can be used at 300-400m against the Panzer I and Panzer II
Barely, being capable of only 14mm penetration but with a muzzle velocity of only
600 meters per second, longer range hits were pretty unlikely.
Post by The Horny Goat
As you can see, just few better generals may not be enough. :-)
Indeed, without the British, the French would have fallen sooner and harder and any
alt-timeline where the French do better, would have to have a much earlier POD.
France loses WWI, and decides to re-evaluate all matters military?
--
pyotr filipivich.
For Sale: Uncirculated Roman Drachmas, feature Julius Ceaser's Portrait,
several dated 44 BCE. Comes with Certificate of Authenticity.
Alex Milman
2017-10-12 19:25:00 UTC
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Post by Ed Stasiak
Post by The Horny Goat
Alex Milman
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.
The French armored divisions (DCR) weren’t formed until late 1939
after they saw
what the Germans did in Poland
The French had 2 types of the armored divisions, DLM ( Light Mechanized Division) and DCR (Reserve Armored Division).

The 1st DLM division was formed in 1932 - 35, the 2nd DLM in 1935. In other words, well before 1939.

Creation of DCR started in September of 1939 but these divisions had only infantry tanks.
Post by Ed Stasiak
and the divisions were poorly organized and lacked
training,
Not true for the 1st (and perhaps even 2nd) DLM both in the terms of organization and training. Organizationally, the DLM divisions had been quite similar (even if weaker) to the Panzer divisions.


DCR did not have medium tanks, included less infantry (1 battalion) and AT artillery than DLM and no AA artillery. DCR were not intended to act independently, did not conduct training above battalion level and were totally subordinated to an infantry army ( used for local counter-attacks, heavy charges like an armored fist, but not deeper than 15-25 km)
Post by Ed Stasiak
as the manuals and procedures had only been put together in Feb ’39 while
the Char B1 tanks (of which the French had too few to begin with) were badly designed
and unreliable, developed for a WWI type battlefield that wouldn’t happen this time
around.
DLM had Hotchkiss H35 and H39 and Somua S35 tanks.
DCR had Renault B1bis, Renault D2, Hotchkiss H39 and Renault R35/39
The Horny Goat
2017-10-10 16:22:56 UTC
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On Mon, 9 Oct 2017 14:12:30 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
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.
Post by WolfBear
In other words, while Britain stays neutral in this TL's World War II, France's military also has better leadership in 1939-1940 and thus keeps the French Seventh Army stationed at Rheims (as per the original plan) instead of sending it over to the Low Countries.
As it was, the French army would be defeated unless Germans made some fundamental blunders.
France without Britain would have been horribly outclassed in its air
forces. They had plenty of tanks and many were better than the Germans
had in 1940 but were rooted in what they had "learned" from WW1.

I'd say France loses an attrition war in 12-18 months.
Alex Milman
2017-10-10 21:50:11 UTC
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Post by The Horny Goat
On Mon, 9 Oct 2017 14:12:30 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
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.
Post by WolfBear
In other words, while Britain stays neutral in this TL's World War II, France's military also has better leadership in 1939-1940 and thus keeps the French Seventh Army stationed at Rheims (as per the original plan) instead of sending it over to the Low Countries.
As it was, the French army would be defeated unless Germans made some fundamental blunders.
France without Britain would have been horribly outclassed in its air
forces.
AFAIK, it was outclassed WITH the Brits.
Post by The Horny Goat
They had plenty of tanks and many were better than the Germans
had in 1940 but were rooted in what they had "learned" from WW1.
I explained in some details in the previous post that pure numbers are pretty much meaningless. Actually, French had less tanks than the Germans and the newest German tanks were not worse than the best French tanks but this was not as important as organization and a level of training (Germans had serious advantages in both).
Post by The Horny Goat
I'd say France loses an attrition war in 12-18 months.
Probably there is some logic somewhere in that statement but it totally escapes me. What you wrote means that the French would do much better without the Brits than they did with the Brits. While, of course, something can be said in a favor of this theory, I'm afraid that the Brits will object. :-)

An assumption that few better generals could fix up fundamental problems of the French army is extremely optimistic because more than one aspect of such a fix would be up to the politicians to resolve. Building up a more powerful air force surely would be a part of a such solution because this problem was well-known.
The Horny Goat
2017-10-11 00:44:14 UTC
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On Tue, 10 Oct 2017 14:50:11 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
As it was, the French army would be defeated unless Germans made some fundamental blunders.
France without Britain would have been horribly outclassed in its air
forces.
AFAIK, it was outclassed WITH the Brits.
Well with the Brits the air battle was a contest. Without them it's
hopeless in the air from day 1.
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
They had plenty of tanks and many were better than the Germans
had in 1940 but were rooted in what they had "learned" from WW1.
I explained in some details in the previous post that pure numbers are pretty much meaningless. Actually, French had less tanks than the Germans and the newest German tanks were not worse than the best French tanks but this was not as important as organization and a level of training (Germans had serious advantages in both).
While I don't dispute that, actual French doctrine on how armor was
to be used pretty much rendered armor useless as a separate class of
unit. And I _don't_ think the French infantry was notably improved as
a result.
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
I'd say France loses an attrition war in 12-18 months.
Probably there is some logic somewhere in that statement but it totally escapes me. What you wrote means that the French would do much better without the Brits than they did with the Brits. While, of course, something can be said in a favor of this theory, I'm afraid that the Brits will object. :-)
I'm suggesting there would be no Anglo-French thrust into Belgium and
that as such the French stay in their own defences. As long as they
can maintain a continuous line they can stay in the fight - but that I
do not see such a war of attrition leading to victory. Of course once
the line breaks, you get someone akin to the last two weeks of May
1940 (e.g. the German drive from Sedan to Abbeville which created the
pocket that eventually led to Dunkirk)

My suggestion of an attrition battle suggests they would have
maintained adequate reserves and fought a 1917-18 type war with
regular German attempts to force a breakthrough. There are enough
river lines in northern France to make that a difficult feat for
German forces.

I'm >specifically< suggesting that the rapidity of the Allied defeat
in May/June 1940 was due to their coming out of their defensive
positions in an unsuccessful attempt to maintain a line near Brussels.
The battle at Sedan was a VERY near run thing as Guderian makes quite
clear in his writings - and the lack of French reserves guarranteed
disaster once the Germans had made a breakout.
Post by Alex Milman
An assumption that few better generals could fix up fundamental problems of the French army is extremely optimistic because more than one aspect of such a fix would be up to the politicians to resolve. Building up a more powerful air force surely would be a part of a such solution because this problem was well-known.
I agree - improve generalship would help the Germans more so than the
French. The French were well prepared for a battle using the arms of
1925-35 but that was not the fight they were called on to fight.
Alex Milman
2017-10-11 20:24:09 UTC
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Post by The Horny Goat
On Tue, 10 Oct 2017 14:50:11 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
As it was, the French army would be defeated unless Germans made some fundamental blunders.
France without Britain would have been horribly outclassed in its air
forces.
AFAIK, it was outclassed WITH the Brits.
Well with the Brits the air battle was a contest. Without them it's
hopeless in the air from day 1.
I'm not sure that there was a serious contest with the Brits but it seems that we agree on the ATL situation.
Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
They had plenty of tanks and many were better than the Germans
had in 1940 but were rooted in what they had "learned" from WW1.
I explained in some details in the previous post that pure numbers are pretty much meaningless. Actually, French had less tanks than the Germans and the newest German tanks were not worse than the best French tanks but this was not as important as organization and a level of training (Germans had serious advantages in both).
While I don't dispute that, actual French doctrine on how armor was
to be used pretty much rendered armor useless as a separate class of
unit.
Well, this is "common knowledge" type of a statement, which is not quite correct: in the 1930's French started adopting to the doctrine of the independent tank units. However, as I explained earlier, they did not move along this road fast enough. By 1940 they _formally_ had 7 tank divisions (against 10 German) out of which only 3 were mobile ('cavalry') and the rest were still "infantry support" (but at least their tanks were not distributed piecemeal among the infantry units). However, out of that number only 1 mobile division was adequately trained (being created in the early-mid 1930's), one (the 3rd) mobile division was only in a process of formation and 4th "infantry support" division was created only when the war started out of the available units with no experience of working together. Then, even the mobile divisions had been weaker than an average Panzer division both in tanks and in AA and AT guns.

So the French did have "armor" as a separate class, it is just they did not have enough units of that class and, unlike Germans, they did not have any fighting experience.

Another "common knowledge" thing is that strength of a Panzer division was not in it being "armor" but in a combination of armor, mechanized infantry, AT and AA artillery, engineering units, etc. The tanks on their own were quite vulnerable (as the Red Army found in 1941) and can't build the bridges, hold the area, etc. So, as far as the headcount is involved most of the personnel of a Panzer division were not tankers. The same applies to the French "armor" units.
Post by The Horny Goat
And I _don't_ think the French infantry was notably improved as
a result.
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
I'd say France loses an attrition war in 12-18 months.
Probably there is some logic somewhere in that statement but it totally escapes me. What you wrote means that the French would do much better without the Brits than they did with the Brits. While, of course, something can be said in a favor of this theory, I'm afraid that the Brits will object. :-)
I'm suggesting there would be no Anglo-French thrust into Belgium and
that as such the French stay in their own defences. As long as they
can maintain a continuous line they can stay in the fight - but that I
do not see such a war of attrition leading to victory. Of course once
the line breaks, you get someone akin to the last two weeks of May
1940 (e.g. the German drive from Sedan to Abbeville which created the
pocket that eventually led to Dunkirk)
The main problem with a defensive strategy is that all initiative belongs to opponent who is totally free to decide when and where to attack while you don't know for sure if any specific attack is a real one or just a diversion from a planned main offensive. Take Kursk. On the Southern flank Soviet leadership was completely wrong in assessment of the German main attack. As a result, the Germans bypassed the sector with the strongest defenses and broke through the weakest sector forcing to commit the strategic tank reserves (the 5th Guards and 5th Guards Tank Armies from the Steppe Front and the 2nd Tank Corps and 17th Air Army from the Southwestern Front) just to stabilize the situation.
The whole thing ended up with the Soviet victory because they had huge advantage in pretty much everything except aircraft (and it can be argued that the Allied invasion of Sicily also came handy).

Now imagine similar situation on a much longer front with French NOT having numeric advantages the Soviets had a Kursk (at least 2.5:1 in men, at least 1.7:1 in tanks and 4:1 in guns). They'd run out of reserves at no time (as they did in OTL).
Post by The Horny Goat
My suggestion of an attrition battle suggests they would have
maintained adequate reserves and fought a 1917-18 type war with
regular German attempts to force a breakthrough.
This was not WWI where mobile warfare was absent and it would not work out.
Especially taking into an account that the French simply would not have what you called "adequate reserves": they'd need pretty much everything they had just to keep the defensive line.
Post by The Horny Goat
There are enough
river lines in northern France to make that a difficult feat for
German forces.
Name a single river in the northern France comparable to Dnieper. AFAIK, even Vistula is bigger than Seine. During their Eastern campaigns (in Poland and the SU) the Germans managed to cross numerous rivers of all sizes so I don't think that the relatively small rivers of the Northern France would possess the magic qualities you are talking about (did they in WWI or Franco-Prussian War or in 1814?)
Post by The Horny Goat
I'm >specifically< suggesting that the rapidity of the Allied defeat
in May/June 1940 was due to their coming out of their defensive
positions in an unsuccessful attempt to maintain a line near Brussels.
The battle at Sedan was a VERY near run thing as Guderian makes quite
clear in his writings - and the lack of French reserves guarranteed
disaster once the Germans had made a breakout.
The French would be lacking reserves if they stood passive. Offensive in Belgium could be a mistake but its absence would provide Germans with free hand elsewhere.
Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
An assumption that few better generals could fix up fundamental problems of the French army is extremely optimistic because more than one aspect of such a fix would be up to the politicians to resolve. Building up a more powerful air force surely would be a part of a such solution because this problem was well-known.
I agree - improve generalship would help the Germans more so than the
French.
One more interesting conclusion with which I can't quite agree. :-)

The better generalship would not solve the problems French Army had in 1940 but it would not necessarily harm what was there.
The Horny Goat
2017-10-11 22:56:21 UTC
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On Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:24:09 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
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Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
They had plenty of tanks and many were better than the Germans
had in 1940 but were rooted in what they had "learned" from WW1.
I explained in some details in the previous post that pure numbers are pretty much meaningless. Actually, French had less tanks than the Germans and the newest German tanks were not worse than the best French tanks but this was not as important as organization and a level of training (Germans had serious advantages in both).
While I don't dispute that, actual French doctrine on how armor was
to be used pretty much rendered armor useless as a separate class of
unit.
Well, this is "common knowledge" type of a statement, which is not quite correct: in the 1930's French started adopting to the doctrine of the independent tank units. However, as I explained earlier, they did not move along this road fast enough. By 1940 they _formally_ had 7 tank divisions (against 10 German) out of which only 3 were mobile ('cavalry') and the rest were still "infantry support" (but at least their tanks were not distributed piecemeal among the infantry units). However, out of that number only 1 mobile division was adequately trained (being created in the early-mid 1930's), one (the 3rd) mobile division was only in a process of formation and 4th "infantry support" division was created only when the war started out of the available units with no experience of working together. Then, even the mobile divisions had been weaker than an average Panzer division both in tanks and in AA and AT guns.
So the French did have "armor" as a separate class, it is just they did not have enough units of that class and, unlike Germans, they did not have any fighting experience.
Another "common knowledge" thing is that strength of a Panzer division was not in it being "armor" but in a combination of armor, mechanized infantry, AT and AA artillery, engineering units, etc. The tanks on their own were quite vulnerable (as the Red Army found in 1941) and can't build the bridges, hold the area, etc. So, as far as the headcount is involved most of the personnel of a Panzer division were not tankers. The same applies to the French "armor" units.
I'm very much aware that there was much more to a panzer division than
just the quality of their tanks. I've got and read Rommel's WW1
memoirs of his time in Italy which was basically his pitch for the
"Stosstruppen" concept. (Which was one of the building blocks that the
1940 panzer division was built on - mostly bypassing obstacles and
leaving them for the infantry. That's an important part of 1939-40
tactics but hardly the entire story)

I am unclear the extent to which experience gained in Abyssinia (for
the Italians) and Spain (both Germany and Italy) helped them. I think
what they gained was more in maneuvering as a larger unit than actual
combat experience.

In my opinion the French independent armored units were too little too
late and while they could have mastered the art by 1942 the French
didn't have until 1942. (Not that a WW2 that didn't start until 1942
would have been economically feasible for Germany - by 1942-43 the
resources gained from occupied countries were critical in keeping the
German economy going)
Alex Milman
2017-10-12 19:46:57 UTC
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On Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:24:09 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
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Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
They had plenty of tanks and many were better than the Germans
had in 1940 but were rooted in what they had "learned" from WW1.
I explained in some details in the previous post that pure numbers are pretty much meaningless. Actually, French had less tanks than the Germans and the newest German tanks were not worse than the best French tanks but this was not as important as organization and a level of training (Germans had serious advantages in both).
While I don't dispute that, actual French doctrine on how armor was
to be used pretty much rendered armor useless as a separate class of
unit.
Well, this is "common knowledge" type of a statement, which is not quite correct: in the 1930's French started adopting to the doctrine of the independent tank units. However, as I explained earlier, they did not move along this road fast enough. By 1940 they _formally_ had 7 tank divisions (against 10 German) out of which only 3 were mobile ('cavalry') and the rest were still "infantry support" (but at least their tanks were not distributed piecemeal among the infantry units). However, out of that number only 1 mobile division was adequately trained (being created in the early-mid 1930's), one (the 3rd) mobile division was only in a process of formation and 4th "infantry support" division was created only when the war started out of the available units with no experience of working together. Then, even the mobile divisions had been weaker than an average Panzer division both in tanks and in AA and AT guns.
So the French did have "armor" as a separate class, it is just they did not have enough units of that class and, unlike Germans, they did not have any fighting experience.
Another "common knowledge" thing is that strength of a Panzer division was not in it being "armor" but in a combination of armor, mechanized infantry, AT and AA artillery, engineering units, etc. The tanks on their own were quite vulnerable (as the Red Army found in 1941) and can't build the bridges, hold the area, etc. So, as far as the headcount is involved most of the personnel of a Panzer division were not tankers. The same applies to the French "armor" units.
I'm very much aware that there was much more to a panzer division than
just the quality of their tanks. I've got and read Rommel's WW1
memoirs of his time in Italy which was basically his pitch for the
"Stosstruppen" concept. (Which was one of the building blocks that the
1940 panzer division was built on - mostly bypassing obstacles and
leaving them for the infantry. That's an important part of 1939-40
tactics but hardly the entire story)
I am unclear the extent to which experience gained in Abyssinia (for
the Italians) and Spain (both Germany and Italy) helped them.
It does not look like ANYTHING helped Italy and it seems that everybody pretty much discounts the Spanish experience as far as armor is involved (in the Red Army acting upon that experience was recognized as a mistake).
Post by The Horny Goat
I think
what they gained was more in maneuvering as a larger unit than actual
combat experience.
Yes, have personnel well trained was quite important.
Post by The Horny Goat
In my opinion the French independent armored units were too little too
late and while they could have mastered the art by 1942 the French
didn't have until 1942.
I somewhat disagree. They created their 1st real tank division in 1932 and they could proceed along that route rather then considering tanks just as an infantry-supporting tool. So, theoretically, if the "better generals" (:-)) took over at that point they'd have as much time as the Germans. Well, of course they'd also need all political support and quite a few other things (like building up their air force, as you noticed earlier) but they could have a properly built and trained tank force by 1939. Of course, an early change of a doctrine would probably impact tank designs so there would be no (or less) slow heavy tanks, etc.
Post by The Horny Goat
(Not that a WW2 that didn't start until 1942
would have been economically feasible for Germany - by 1942-43 the
resources gained from occupied countries were critical in keeping the
German economy going
Actually, this is a very interesting question. As far as I can figure out, Hitler was not in a business of counting money (based on Speer's description of his activities as Hitler's architect) so sooner or later there could be a problem from that corner. But could the 3rd Reich keep going with Czechia and Austria but without the countries it occupied in 1939 - 40? It is not like it was relying exclusively on the loot from occupied countries: Sweden was (AFAIK) a major supplier and, of course Rumania. So, can the 3rd Reich keep buying whatever it needs for the next 2 - 3 years (selling German production to have cash)?
The Horny Goat
2017-10-13 01:41:47 UTC
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On Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:46:57 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
I am unclear the extent to which experience gained in Abyssinia (for
the Italians) and Spain (both Germany and Italy) helped them.
It does not look like ANYTHING helped Italy and it seems that everybody pretty much discounts the Spanish experience as far as armor is involved (in the Red Army acting upon that experience was recognized as a mistake).
There is the apocryphal story of the 60s era West German military
attache who in his cups said at a party that WW2 Italian tanks had 5
gears - 1 forward, 4 reverse - and was duly sacked after the Italians
complained.
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
I think
what they gained was more in maneuvering as a larger unit than actual
combat experience.
Yes, have personnel well trained was quite important.
Specifically many have said the main strength of the Wehrmacht was in
its feldwebels.
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
(Not that a WW2 that didn't start until 1942
would have been economically feasible for Germany - by 1942-43 the
resources gained from occupied countries were critical in keeping the
German economy going
Actually, this is a very interesting question. As far as I can figure out, Hitler was not in a business of counting money (based on Speer's description of his activities as Hitler's architect) so sooner or later there could be a problem from that corner. But could the 3rd Reich keep going with Czechia and Austria but without the countries it occupied in 1939 - 40? It is not like it was relying exclusively on the loot from occupied countries: Sweden was (AFAIK) a major supplier and, of course Rumania. So, can the 3rd Reich keep buying whatever it needs for the next 2 - 3 years (selling German production to have cash)?
I've read several articles suggesting that Nazi Germany at peace until
1941 was a Nazi Germany in economic collapse. Not sure if I totally
buy that but economically it wasn't cheap to maintain the kind of army
Germany had in 1939.
Alex Milman
2017-10-13 19:30:16 UTC
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Post by The Horny Goat
On Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:46:57 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
I am unclear the extent to which experience gained in Abyssinia (for
the Italians) and Spain (both Germany and Italy) helped them.
It does not look like ANYTHING helped Italy and it seems that everybody pretty much discounts the Spanish experience as far as armor is involved (in the Red Army acting upon that experience was recognized as a mistake).
There is the apocryphal story of the 60s era West German military
attache who in his cups said at a party that WW2 Italian tanks had 5
gears - 1 forward, 4 reverse - and was duly sacked after the Italians
complained.
IIRC, at some point the Brits used in Africa the captured Italian tanks. If true, then probably they had more than 1 forward gear. :-)

Actually, it seems that their 2 armored divisions were not performing too badly in Africa taking into an account that their tanks were on a light side and that the Brits enjoyed superiority in the air (and the fact that Rommel was abandoning them to save the Germans):

'Harry Zinder of Time magazine noted that the Italians fought better than had been expected, and commented that for the Italians:
It was a terrific letdown by their German allies. They had fought a good fight. In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition. Two armoured divisions and a motorised division, which had been interspersed among the German formations, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel's 21st, 15th and 19th [sic][nb 2] light. But even that was denied them. When it became obvious to Rommel that there would be little chance to hold anything between El Daba and the frontier, his Panzers dissolved, disintegrated and turned tail, leaving the Italians to fight a rear-guard action.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/133rd_Armoured_Division_Littorio
Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
I think
what they gained was more in maneuvering as a larger unit than actual
combat experience.
Yes, have personnel well trained was quite important.
Specifically many have said the main strength of the Wehrmacht was in
its feldwebels.
Isn't this true for (almost) any army?:-)
Post by The Horny Goat
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
(Not that a WW2 that didn't start until 1942
would have been economically feasible for Germany - by 1942-43 the
resources gained from occupied countries were critical in keeping the
German economy going
Actually, this is a very interesting question. As far as I can figure out, Hitler was not in a business of counting money (based on Speer's description of his activities as Hitler's architect) so sooner or later there could be a problem from that corner. But could the 3rd Reich keep going with Czechia and Austria but without the countries it occupied in 1939 - 40? It is not like it was relying exclusively on the loot from occupied countries: Sweden was (AFAIK) a major supplier and, of course Rumania. So, can the 3rd Reich keep buying whatever it needs for the next 2 - 3 years (selling German production to have cash)?
I've read several articles suggesting that Nazi Germany at peace until
1941 was a Nazi Germany in economic collapse. Not sure if I totally
buy that but economically it wasn't cheap to maintain the kind of army
Germany had in 1939.
Seems to be the case, especially taking into an account a general inefficiency of the German industry in pre-Speer period (this came as a huge surprise to me).
I wonder if some of the potential problems could be compensated by a greater efficiency of the German industry and Hitler's willingness to put country into a "mobilization mode". For example, German women were mostly out of the economy while even in the US they were (AFAIK) widely used in various types of production. Or perhaps just a better organization and centralization (unpopular among the Nazi regional bosses): after all German military production kept growing almost all the way to the late 1944 when they lost most of their earlier conquests and most of their industrial plants being destroyed by the Allied bombing.
The Horny Goat
2017-10-14 02:32:50 UTC
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On Fri, 13 Oct 2017 12:30:16 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
There is the apocryphal story of the 60s era West German military
attache who in his cups said at a party that WW2 Italian tanks had 5
gears - 1 forward, 4 reverse - and was duly sacked after the Italians
complained.
IIRC, at some point the Brits used in Africa the captured Italian tanks. If true, then probably they had more than 1 forward gear. :-)
While I take your point I said the story was apocryphal and had
allegedly led to the dismissal of the German officer (who was supposed
to have been a diplomatic attache) who told it.

If the story's true I'd be amazed - it was told as a joke. The similar
version of this same joke was that Japanese armor had 4 gears - 1st
2nd 3rd and BANZAI!!

While some apocryphal stories are based on truth and while the truant
in this case was supposed to have been drunk I would be amazed if it
were remotely true.
Alex Milman
2017-10-14 16:35:40 UTC
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Post by The Horny Goat
On Fri, 13 Oct 2017 12:30:16 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
There is the apocryphal story of the 60s era West German military
attache who in his cups said at a party that WW2 Italian tanks had 5
gears - 1 forward, 4 reverse - and was duly sacked after the Italians
complained.
IIRC, at some point the Brits used in Africa the captured Italian tanks. If true, then probably they had more than 1 forward gear. :-)
While I take your point I said the story was apocryphal and had
allegedly led to the dismissal of the German officer (who was supposed
to have been a diplomatic attache) who told it.
Unlike our media, I have sense of humor. Did you miss ":-)"? OTOH, I can easily understand why the Italians were not amused and why the idiot was dismissed.
The Horny Goat
2017-10-15 02:21:30 UTC
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On Sat, 14 Oct 2017 09:35:40 -0700 (PDT), Alex Milman
Post by Alex Milman
Post by The Horny Goat
While I take your point I said the story was apocryphal and had
allegedly led to the dismissal of the German officer (who was supposed
to have been a diplomatic attache) who told it.
Unlike our media, I have sense of humor. Did you miss ":-)"? OTOH, I can easily understand why the Italians were not amused and why the idiot was dismissed.
IF it happened at all I can't imagine military attaches have to be
told about the dangers of too much booze, mysterious women and all the
other foibles any fan of le Carre and his genre are prone to throw in
the ways of attaches :)

While I'm quite prepared to believe technical training is provided
them before taking their postings, no officer whose superiors had
doubts about his discretion would be considered for the position.

However we all know military careers like civilian careers can come
crashing and burning due to a single "oh my god did he do THAT?"
moment.

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