Blitzkrieg & the Fall of France - the Nazi war machine rampages through Western Europe with a series of invasions that blow away the Allied defenders in Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries, and France.
In the spring of 1940, an emboldened Germany asserted itself as a modern conqueror of nations, successfully invading and occupying six countries in fewer than 100 days. On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, which capitulated in a mere six hours. At the same time, Nazi warships and troops were entering Norwegian waters, attacking ships, landing troops, and starting a conflict that would last for two months.
The western European invasion began at 2:30am on May 10th, involving infantry crossing into Holland and Belgium and joined by German paratroopers taking the Belgian fort at Eben-Emael and its 2,000-strong garrison with the loss of just six German paratroopers. Other key paradrops netted strategic bridges and villages that would allow passage of German armor. Paratroopers also landed in Rotterdam and The Hague under complete surprise. The Dutch and Belgians did their best to resist but their plans were badly dislocated by the loss of the border fortifications, which they were expecting to buy time for their troops to deploy.
While the Allies were distracted by the attacks in the Low Countries, the bulk of the German armoured divisions were racing through the Ardennes almost unopposed, reaching the Meuse River on 12 May. The French reserve divisions barely slowed the German thrust, and by 15 May the Germans had a large bridgehead across the river. A day later the German spearhead was through the French defences and far behind the Allied front line. The German tanks reached the coast at the mouth of the Somme River on 20 September, cutting the British and French armies off from their supplies.
Marching on half rations, the British and French fell back, mounting a fighting withdrawal as they tried to close their wide-open flank. Sporadic attempts to re-establish contact with the rest of the French Army failed, leaving evacuation the only alternative. Between 27 May and 4 June the Royal Navy evacuated 200,000 British troops and 140,000 Belgian and French troops from Dunkirk, leaving 30,000 French behind holding the beachhead to the end.
On 22 Jun 1940, General Pretelat surrendered the French Second Army Group, marking the end of the battle. The government of France formally surrendered three days later in the same railroad car at Compiègne that Germany had surrendered in at the conclusion of WW1 in 1918.
To many German military leaders, the victory spelled a satisfying revenge for the defeat in WW1 and the shame that resulted from the post-WW1 sanctions. “I had a feeling that this was our hour of revenge for Versailles, and I was conscious of my pride in the conclusion of a unique and victorious campaign, and of a resolve to respect the feelings of those who had been honorably vanquished in battle”, said General Keitel. “That day was the climax of my career as a soldier”.
With the surrender of France, Britain stood alone against the Nazi war machine, although thanks to the evacuation of troops from the continent, strong navy and airforce, the island nation would not fall easily to Blitzkrieg tactics and remian a thorn in Hitler's quest for total domination of Europe.
Battle of Britain & the Blitz - after a bid to wipe out the Royal Air Force fails, the Luftwaffe switches to a strategy of bombing of British cities
In the summer and fall of 1940, German and British air forces clashed in the skies over the United Kingdom, locked in the largest sustained bombing campaign to that date. A significant turning point of World War II, the Battle of Britain ended when Germany’s Luftwaffe failed to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force despite months of targeting Britain’s air bases, military posts and, ultimately, its civilian population. Britain’s decisive victory saved the country from a ground invasion and possible occupation by German forces while proving that air power alone could be used to win a major battle.
With France defeated, Britain stood alone against the power of Germany’s military forces, which had conquered most of Western Europe in less than two months. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill rallied his stubborn people and outmaneuvered those politicians who wanted to negotiate with Adolf Hitler. Britain’s success in continuing the war would very much depend on the RAF Fighter Command’s ability to thwart the Luftwaffe’s efforts to gain air superiority.
In fact, Britain’s situation was more favorable than most of the world recognized at the time. Britain possessed an effective air defense system, first-rate fighter pilots, and a great military leader in Air Marshal Hugh Dowding. On the other hand, the Germans had major problems: they had no navy left after the costly conquest of Norway, their army was unprepared for any form of amphibious operations, and the Luftwaffe had suffered heavy losses in the west.
Even more serious, the Germans had poor intelligence and little idea of British vulnerabilities. They wasted most of July in waiting for a British surrender and attacked only in August. Although air strikes did substantial damage to radar sites, on August 13–15 the Luftwaffe soon abandoned that avenue and turned to attacks on RAF air bases. A battle of attrition ensued in which both sides suffered heavy losses (an average loss of 21 percent of the RAF’s fighter pilots and 16 percent of the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilots each month during July, August, and September).
For a time the advantage seemed to swing slightly in favor of the Germans, but a combination of bad intelligence and British attacks on Berlin led the Luftwaffe to change its operational approach to massive attacks on London. Hitler believed that by targeting civilians he could force the British to surrender and on 7th September began his daily bombing campaign. London was the main target but other major cities were also bombed. Casualties were high. On the first day of bombing 430 people were killed and 1,600 badly injured.The first attack on London was quite successful; the second, on September 15, failed not only with heavy losses, but also with a collapse of morale among German bomber crews when British fighters appeared in large numbers and shot down many of the Germans.
Within a few weeks the daily bombing raids had become nightly raids. Hitler decided to make the bombing raids at night to increase the ‘fear factor’ and also to make people weaker by not allowing them to sleep properly. People in London slept in underground stations for protection. The government tried to confuse the German bombers by enforcing a ‘blackout’. Street lamps were switched off, car headlights had to be covered and people had to hang black material in their windows at night so that house lights could not be seen.
After May 1941, the bombing raids became less frequent as Hitler turned his attention to Russia. Nevertheless, the effects of the Blitz were devastating. 60,000 people lost their lives, 87,000 were seriously injured and 2 million homes were destroyed.