Excogitations On German Combat Strength At The Outset Of WWII.

by Daniel Russ on January 4, 2011

The British Navy was still the most feared seagoing force of World War II. The Island Empire began the conflict in 1939 with ten battleships and five carriers, while Germany had no battleships and no carriers. It was significant from the

German Magnetic Mine

outset of the war because the Germans immediately after Poland began a series of assaults on Scandinavian countries. Of course Hitler sent German manufacturing into high gear creating a fleet of super battleships, the Bismark among them. However Hitler had U-boats which history has proven to be the most underrated threat of the Western theater. It wasn’t long before U-boats sent two British carriers, the Royal Oak and the Courageous beneath the waves. One day I will write a piece about the Graf Spree, the German pocket battleship that carried 11-inch guns and wrought havoc in the North Atlantic until the British cornered it in Montevideo harbor. The German commander scuttled the ship himself.

The UK lost ships to mines as well and many times the seamen reported that the explosion wasn’t preceded by a collision. They were baffled. The capture of a magnetic signature mine helped the UK design electronic countermeasures. They degaussed their ships with a copper tube and a current and essentially shut down the magnetic mines in the North Atlantic.

On the Ground, British and Free French troops were clashing with the still young Wehrmacht. Von Manstein planned an offensive into Western Europe across the Maginot Line. The Maginot Line was a 200 mile long system of hardened bunkers and cannonade fortresses connected by tunnels.  It lay between France and Italy and Germany following on the

Field Marshal Fedor Von Bock

trench combat of the First World War. Contrary to popular belief, it was just NOT circumvented, but had to be overwhelmed at  hard points with commandos in gliders. That’s another story. The Allies decided then to move assets up almost to the Western edge of the Meuse River. The German advance took place the day after Churchill was elected Prime Minister in 1940 and for the next few weeks the news was unfortunately all bad. Frederick Von Bock, later to be commander of Army Group Center in Barbarossa was commanding Army Group B. This was the first time by the way that the Germans moved a massive amount of men and material through the Ardennes Forest. The second time they did it was on December 15th 1944 and that one was even more costly. Army Group B had successfully pushed between the Maginot defenses and the Allies and threatened now to swing northwards and then eastwards and pin the British up against the Meuse river. The Allies were quick to respond and thankfully they pulled back and began backing up against the coastline.

By now the Allies and the Germans both knew that the 19th Panzer division under Heinz Guderian was stretched thin east to west and Charles De Gaulle attempted to break through Guderians’ lines. On May 12th, 1940 the French struck. However the lightly armored French tanks were fended off easily in two attempts. The two failed attempts by the French embarrassed the Allies. The Germans were so effective as a ground fighting force that even a badly attenuated supply line could not be breached by an Allied armored thrust. Now, to make matters worse, the roads were clogged with refugees racing away from the German onslaught. That made it difficult on the fast moving battlefield for the Allies to mount any counter offensive and it made it easy for the Nazis to screen their own movements behind the refugees as well.

As the Allies, mostly British, were pinned down at Dunkirk, they needed a few days to organize an evacuation.


Miraculously they got their respite. German commanders gave their men a couple of days to rest, reload, and to perform some badly needed maintenance on their always finicky armor. During their two day respite, every thing that could float on the French coastline or from England as headed to Dunkirk and 300,000 men were rescued.

It should be noted that the French Army fought ferociously and held off the 19th Panzer Division long enough so that the Allies could be rescued.

Here is a description of the Maginot Line from Wikipedia:

The specification of the defences was very high, with extensive and interconnected bunker complexes for thousands of men; there were 45 main forts (grands ouvrages) at 15 kilometres intervals, 97 smaller forts (petits ouvrages) and 352 casemates between, with over 100 kilometres of tunnels. Artillery was coordinated with protective measures to assure that one fort could support the next in line by bombarding it directly without harm. The largest guns were therefore 135mm fortress guns; larger weapons were to be part of the mobile forces and were to be deployed behind the lines.

The fortifications did not extend through the Ardennes Forest (which was believed to be impenetrable) or along France’s border with Belgium, because the two countries had signed an alliance in 1920, by which the French army would operate in Belgium if the German forces invaded. When Belgium abrogated the treaty in 1936 and declared neutrality, the Maginot Line was quickly extended along the Franco-Belgian border, but not to the standard of the rest of the Line. As the water table in this region was high, there was the danger of underground passages getting flooded, which the designers of the line knew would be difficult and expensive to overcome.

There was a final flurry of construction in 1939–1940 with general improvements all along the Line. The final Line was strongest around the industrial regions of Metz, Lauter and Alsace, while other areas were in comparison only weakly guarded. In contrast, the propaganda about the line made it appear far greater a construction than it was; illustrations showed multiple stories of interwoven passages, and even underground railyards and cinemas. This reassured allied civilians.

Source: Wiki


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 1, 2017 at 7:23 am

Your piece is interesting, if only for the myths that are still prevalent in it.
HMS “Royal Oak” was not a carrier. I think you mean HMS “Ark Royal”, but she was lost much later, in 1941.
The “Admiral Graf Spee” was active in the South Atlantic, and, briefly, in the Indian Ocean, before meeting its doom at Montivideo.
The British got the magnetic mine on a platter, when they found an unidentified object on a mud flat, somewhere in 1939, and were able to salvage it, and device the de-gaussing technic.
The Maginot Line was not opposite Italy. Yes, there were defences on the French-Italian border, but they were not part of the Maginot Line.
Yes, the Maginot line WAS circumvented. What you are refering to is the capture of the Belgian Fort Eben Emaul, by gliderborn infantry, which covered the Meusse crossings that the German Army Group B (the decoy that the Allies were to react to) had to cross. That Belgian fort was part of the (far less extensive) fortifications that the Belgians (more strapped fo cash then the French) built along their frontier with the Germans. And after the Allies would all be moving into Belgium (which was neutral up to that point, and did not have ANY liason with the French-British – just like the Dutch, by the way-) the other German army group (A), (with all the mobile troops in it) would strike at the junction of the Maginot line and the planned Allied Meusse defence line, namely at Sedan, after crossing the “Impregnable” Ardennes. They then would race to the sea (the English Channel near Abbeville) and cut off the supply lines of all the Allies in Belgium, and Northern France.
As the 19th Panzer Division was only activated in November 1940, I do no see how she could be present in May 1940. I think you mean 10th Panzer Division, which did do the whole Ardennes-English Channel thing.
During all the battles in this campaign the French usually had better armoured tanks than the Germans. What they did not have was better equipment and doctrine. Time and again the Germans were able, with their relatively thin skinned, but better managed (all tanks had radios, even though only the lead tanks could send, they could all hear) tanks, to outfight the French. And the attack by De Gaulle was stopped mostly by infantry and artillery, as the German tanks were farther west.
At Dunkirk almost one third of the troops taken of the beaches, and the harbour, were French. However most of those were subsequently shipped back to France, and some of them did fight (and died) against the Germans again when the Germans crossed the Seine, a few weeks later.
The (in)famous “Haltbefehl” was apparantly done by Hitler to impress his will on his generals, not because the troops needed rest. The troops were chomping at the bit, because they could see the Allies reeling, and wanted to deliver the knock-out blow.
Last but not least, new research has shown that part of the reason the Germans were able to do all these things in a remarkable short period, was the fact that they were living on methamphetamine for most of the campaign. However, during the campaign all the drawbacks of sustained meth use also showed, so it was used much more sparingly during subsequent campaigns.

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