A few of my students were making fun of France's surrender to Germany during WW2. So this made me wonder why France would surrender only after a week. They had a pretty good army. They could have put up more of a fight, but why not?

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  • 5
    You might start with Battle of France. – justCal Nov 23 '17 at 5:08
  • 5
    Six weeks not just one (May 10 to June 24, 1940), and as this map shows, the entire industrial heartland of France, including Paris, had been overrun. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 23 '17 at 11:57

In key areas, the German army was better. After Versailles, Germany was limited to 100,000 troops, and they were prohibited from cycling lots and lots of conscripts through basic training (that was a lesson of WWI and the Napoleonic wars).

  • When rearmament came, the German army had a solid core of long-service professionals who could become NCOs and officers.
  • During the 1920s, the general staff thought long and hard how to fight and win outnumbered. Beating France with 100,000 troops was not in the cards, but there were potential enemies in central Europe.
  • Having lost, they took a hard view at what went wrong and what needed to be improved. Auftragstaktik, the general-purpose machine gun, close air support tactics.

Meanwhile the French built the Maginot line. Contrary to public perception, they did not expect to hunker behind those bunkers. It was supposed to defend their right flank while the mobile forces assembled on the left flank, for a battle through Belgium and the Netherlands.

When Germany won the battle in the Low Countries and broke through to Dunkirk, France didn't have the mobile troops left to stop a strike into their industrial and population centers.

(Side note -- one could say that the same factors contributed to the German defeat by the Soviet Union. Germany was prepared for short, decisive campaigns, but not for the long run.)

  • I am very surprised by the paragraph about the Maginot line. I remember reading that mobile forces where indeed assembled behind the Maginot line, for unclear prupose. Also, France was counting on Belgium's neutrality and didn't plan to invade through the low countries. If anything, they refrained from any move there from August 1939 until the German invasion in May 1940... – Evargalo Nov 23 '17 at 15:53
  • @Evargalo, not all mobile forces where on the left. But France did not expect Belgium to hold out indefinitely against Germany. They just counted on more time to mobilize. – o.m. Nov 23 '17 at 21:20
  • Sure, put they did not plan invasion before 1941, and even preparations for defending Belgium were half-hearted at least until the Mechelen incident. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechelen_incident – Evargalo Nov 23 '17 at 21:50
  • @Evargalo, both French and Germans had plans for an offensive through Belgium against each other at various times. While Belgium wanted to defend the entrie country, but could not. Then Eben Emael happened. – o.m. Nov 24 '17 at 5:25
  • Maginot line purpose was to avoid an attack while the country is mobilizing. France expected an attack through Belgium, so a secondary purpose was to hold Alsace-Lorraine with less troops. Don't forget that France had a numerical disavantage against Germany. – xrorox Nov 28 '17 at 17:04

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