French Campaign of 1940

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

French Campaign of 1940


an offensive of the fascist German troops against France during World War II that lasted from May 10 to June 24, 1940.

The preparation and implementation of the French campaign took place under conditions that were extremely favorable for fascist Germany. The leaders of the French bourgeoisie harbored pro-Hitler sympathies. The governments of Great Britain and France, still hoping to direct the fascist aggression against the USSR, did not take the necessary steps to strengthen their countries’ defense capabilities. As a consequence, the Anglo-French forces in France were inactive from the outbreak of the war, doing nothing to hinder the concentration of enemy forces.

The goal of the French campaign was to occupy the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg and to force France to drop out of the war. The fascist German command divided the campaign into two stages, called Operations Gelb (yellow) and Rot (red). For Operation Gelb, under the command of Colonel General W. von Brauchitsch, the Germans massed 136 divisions (including ten panzer divisions), 2,580 tanks, 3,824 airplanes, and 7,378 field guns. The main strike was to be delivered by Army Group A, which included 38 infantry and seven panzer divisions under Colonel General G. von Rundstedt. Moving in a general direction from the area south of Liège, this army group was to skirt the Maginot Line from the north, passing through the Ardennes, and to reach the mouth of the Somme River in order to intersect the Allied front and cut off their forces in Belgium and northern France. Army Group B, with 26 infantry and three panzer divisions under Colonel General F. von Bock, was supposed to quickly overrun the Netherlands and then strike into central Belgium in order to pin down the main Allied forces in Belgium and then, together with Army Group A, to destroy them. Army Group C, with 19 infantry divisions under Colonel General W. von Leeb, was given the mission of pinning down as many enemy troops as possible on the Maginot Line. The General Headquarters Reserve consisted of 42 infantry divisions.

The Allied Command deployed against Germany the Northeastern Front under General J. Georges, stretching from Pas-de-Calais to Switzerland and consisting of three army groups. As soon as the enemy invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, the First Army Group (32 French divisions, including three light mechanized and seven motorized divisions, and nine British divisions) was to advance along the Meuse-Namur-Liège-Antwerp line under under cover from the Dutch (ten divisions, 120 planes) and Belgian (23 divisions, 186 planes) armies and to create a stable defensive front. Expecting the main strike of the enemy to be north of the Meuse and Sambre rivers, the Allied Command concentrated its forces on that axis. Further south, in the Ardennes, only 16 divisions and two brigades were spread over a 140-km front. Deployed on the Maginot Line were the Second and Third army groups, comprising 50 infantry divisions, including one British division. In the front reserve there were 17 infantry divisions. The commander in chief of the French ground forces, General M. Gamelin, had at his disposal only six divisions, including three tank divisions. In all, the Allies had 111 divisions, about 3,100 tanks, and more than 12,500 guns dispersed along the Northeastern Front. The air force totaled 1,648 French planes and 1,837 British aircraft, of which 500 were in France. Along the border with Switzerland and Italy stood the seven infantry divisions of the Southeastern Front under General R. Olry.

On May 10 the fascist German forces, having violated the neutrality of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, began a strategic offensive with air support and paratroops, used especially in the capture of The Hague, Rotterdam, and the bridges across the Meuse River and the Albert Canal. On May 14 the Dutch Army capitulated. On the axis of the main strike, the fascist German troops forced the Meuse River and, launching a rapid offensive with panzer divisions toward the west, reached the English Channel on May 21, having cut off 22 Belgian and 28 Anglo-French divisions around Dunkerque. General M. Weygand, who replaced Gamelin as commander in chief of the ground forces, attempted unsuccessfully to halt the enemy. On May 28 the Belgian Army capitulated, and the encircled Anglo-French forces were evacuated to Britain with heavy losses by June 4.

On June 5,130 fascist German divisions began to carry out Operation Rot. While Army Group B launched an offensive from the Somme River line along the southern and southwestern axes, Army Group A struck along the southeastern axis in order to gain the rear of the Maginot Line. Having broken the stubborn resistance of the French forces (71 divisions), the fascist German troops broke through to the interior of France.

The French government, in which defeatist and capitulationist elements began to gain the upper hand, did not organize the defense of the country. The government rejected the program proposed by the Central Committee of the French Communist Party on June 6 for turning the war into a popular struggle for the freedom and independence of France. On June 10 the government left Paris for Bordeaux, and four days later Paris was surrendered without a fight. On June 10, Italy declared war on France. The French government, headed by Marshal H. P. Pétain, decided to capitulate to Germany, and an armistice was signed at Compiègne on June 22. Two days later, at the Villa Incisa near Rome, France signed an act of capitulation to Italy. Most of France was occupied by fascist German troops. France’s losses totaled 84,000 killed and 1.5 million taken prisoner. The fascist German troops lost approximately 44,000 killed and missing in action, as well as more than 111,000 wounded.

The causes for the defeat of the Anglo-French forces in the French campaign were rooted in the policy of the ruling circles of Great Britain and France, who on behalf of the class interests of the imperialistic bourgeoisie encouraged fascist aggression in the prewar years, seeking to direct it against the USSR. It was this policy that determined the inactivity of the Western Allies during the period of the “phony war” and caused them to make serious miscalculations in strategy.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.