Mary Russell

I used the France 1914 map and baseline infantry strengths for my following game, Blitzkrieg! The Attack on the West, 1940 - in Teutons!, given the new, simpler title Blitzkrieg: France 1940.  The difference in this 1940 game is the advent of massed armor groups and airpower, and the dramatically different pace of events demonstrates the difference in outcome of the German offensives in the respective world wars. The teaching/learning value of playing the two games in tandem - the simpler, introductory France 1914 first, of course - is considerable.

German invasion of Poland

In May of 1940, another European - not yet seen as world - war was well underway. Nazi Germany, along with its ally Soviet Russia, had co-invaded and divided Poland. In Apr-May 1940, Denmark and Norway had been conquered by an unprecedented aerial and seaborne Blitzkrieg - "lightning war" - giving German Kriegsmarine surface ships access to northern seas and even the North Atlantic. Meanwhile, the torpedo problems which had plagued early U-boat attacks were being solved and Allied merchant ship losses were starting to mount. And before the war, British modern warfare theorists Fuller and Lidell-Hart (among others) had warned of the necessity for Allied high commands to think in mobile warfare "tank time" - to realize that military operations would be transformed into a far faster pace and greater shock than the comparatively static war-of-attrition trench warfare of the First World War.

Generaloberst Guderian, the father of the Blitzkrieg

Despite all this, the Free World had good reasons to be optimistic about the war's outcome. The British Royal Navy and French Marin completely outnumbered the Kriegsmarine in every class of ship, including aircraft carriers of which the Germans would never have any operational. The French Army had more and better tanks than the German Wehrmacht, and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and French air force seemed to be on par with the Luftwaffe. The strongly and deeply built fortifications of France's Maginot Line facing Germany promised safety or at least minimum casualties from direct German attack. However, within only 5 weeks of the 10 May 1940 German Blitzkrieg against the West - Holland, Belgium, and France - all those countries' capitals would be taken and Belgium and France would collapse, to submit to humiliating surrender terms and cruel Nazi occupation until 1944 Liberation by the U.S., Britain and Canada, the Free Polish, a Norwegian detachment, and the Free French (with considerable help from Dutch, Belgian, and French resistance groups).

The shock to the world of the French collapse - of Evil's apparent triumph - is difficult to imagine now. And how The Fall of France could happen was hard to understand. However, it can be explained by recognizing key social and strategic factors not fully appreciated at the time. An entire generation of young Frenchmen had been exterminated in the First World War holocaust, no one in the West wanted yet another one, and no one wanted to die in such a war. Percentage-wise, the loss of young Germans had been less - the Germans had soon devised doctrines to minimize trench warfare losses - and the German birthrate (and thus Second World War manpower) was not significantly reduced. And still bitter about the harsh and humiliating Versailles Treaty and the German people's post-WW1 deprivation and suffering, Hitler and many Germans were eager for a rematch with new weapons and Blitzkrieg operational doctrines devised and tested secretly in Soviet Russia and overtly in the Spanish Civil War. Thus, the morale and vigor of France and the French Army was very fragile while that of the Germans was very high.

France and its army were also politically vulnerable: not only were there French fascists, Stalin did not want France defeating his ally Hitler too soon and directed the French Communist Party - its participating non-Stalinists had been purged/exterminated in the Spanish Civil War during the 1937 Siege of Barcelona - to sabotage France's war industry and effort any way it could. (See the French film Triple Agent for a depiction of active and lethal Soviet intrigues in the West between the world wars.)

Captured French troops in 1940

In actual capability, the French Army of 1940 was little different from that of 1914-18, and the similarity of the Allied armies' strengths in this game and my previous (and popular) France 1914 game is no accident. French high command communications with its armies were excruciatingly slow - not the instant German radio communications. This greatly impeded responsiveness, mobility, and the chance to gain offensive or counteroffensive battlefield initiative. Although there were a few groupings of mobile/armored divisions, they were mostly subordinated to the infantry armies - thus, the two 4-factor and two 3-factor French armies in the game. (The "Groupe Mobile" units in my game are nonhistorical labels of the one or two groups of French armored and motorized divisions which had some independent armored command capability.) In contrast, the Germans had five powerful motorized corps - labeled panzer korps later in the war and in this game - concentrating armored forces for maximum mobility, shock, penetration, and independent action.

A trio of Junkers Ju 87 Stukas

But what decisively multiplied Blitzkrieg shock was the development of aerial ground support: spearheading units could have critical points of concentrated enemy resistance weakened and even obliterated by pinpoint, heavy bombardment by on-call Luftwaffe dive bombers like the notorious "bird of prey" Junkers 87 Stuka, without having to lose vital time waiting for heavy artillery units to move up on congested routes of advance to get into range (as later happened in the Germans' Ardennes counteroffensive of Dec 1944).

And once the German Blitzkrieg got going in the West and French command control became Disrupted and lost, there was more and more panic in the ranks - or more accurately a numbing, immobilizing, fatalistic depression - especially among infantry being penetrated, bypassed, surrounded, and/or overrun by armored forces they were inadequately equipped and/or commanded to fend off and halt.

A watchful German machine gunner stands ready near the Eiffel Tower

The strategic consequences of the overrunning of Denmark and Norway and The Fall of France in 1940 were many and profound. No longer could the rest of the West assume that the "good guys" were going to win against such powerfully efficient totalitarian states as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Realists in the United States realized it was only a matter of time before we were pulled into the Second World War, and America under Roosevelt began preparing for that and assisting the British and later Russians any way they could.

On the German side, in Poland, Scandinavia, and the West, Hitler had understood the awesome potential of the new Blitzkrieg weapons and doctrine better than his senior generals, and Nazi Germany's crushing victories had been won despite their conservatism and pessimism. With Britain seemingly neutralized by U-boat attacks and by threats to its positions in Africa, the Mideast, and the rest of the world, Hitler would next in 1941 order a Blitzkrieg attack on a vaster scale against a far larger and stronger enemy - Soviet Russia - disregarding his own interwar admonitions against a two-front war. This, along with his declaration of war on the United States after Pearl Harbor - a hoped-for declaration of war against the Soviet Union by the Japanese was never reciprocated - would be terminal strategic miscalculation on a vast scale ... and his and Nazi Germany's undoing. Thus, Hitler's 1940 victories fanned his megalomania, which culminated in his and Germany's complete and utter destruction in 1945.

Legendary German general Erwin Rommel with captured British soldiers

Although it had only 2 panzer divisions, I have rated (Hoth's) 15. Panzerkorps a 3 because one of those divisions - the 7th - was commanded by my boyhood hero General Erwin Johann Rommel, later to become "The Desert Fox."

As to my two high school French teachers I mention in the games' Dedication, the first was a tall, slim girl with brown hair and (as I remember) brown eyes and a prettily pouty face. She had long, perfect legs and full hips, and although not voluptuous, the way she moved and talked exuded sensuality too hard for a 10th grader/sophomore to bear. Then too, her stool was almost as high as her lectern, and she leaned far forward to lecture. Although she was always tastefully attired, the class's center-row seats became prized and monopolized by upperclassmen, although my view from the front row side was no less gratifying. I myself earned the nickname Louis Le Placard trying to act up and catch her attention, and the barely suppressed smile on our assistant principal's face as he heard my account of my sopho-moronic stunt - and awarded me 3 (or was it 5?) detentions - indicated he understood my ... discomfiture. Tragically, she did not return the next school year, possibly because of a particularly wild New Year's Eve party the next town over.

Her successor, the petite, bird-like Miss Klein, was just as coquettishly attractive but much more modest, although she and our favorite English teacher had a lively relationship we all hoped would blossom into marriage. (Instead, she eventually took a position in an American school in Europe.) Miss Klein was determined that we would learn French and despite her German (Alsace-Lorraine?) surname was stridently anti-German(-language). She would fly into a tiff every time I mischievously tried to substitute a German word for a French one. Nonetheless, her good friend was my German teacher Frau Brodd, who was an intense - in her own way very attractive - young German-American girl with short blonde hair and thick black-rimmed glasses, who drilled us in Deutsch with such Prussian precision that I was put in Advanced German my one plebe semester at West Point.

Play Advice: Ideally, the game should be played twice, with a more experienced player taking the Germans first. A normal victory is worth 1 Game Point, and a Smashing Victory, 2. Then the Game Points for both games can be compared and totalled to see who is the overall winner.

Note that in my games armies not only have Strong Zones of Control/ZOCs (into adjacent hexes) that can stop enemy movement, but if UnDisrupted they can defensively support adjacent units and (if those are UnDisrupted as well) vice versa. The Allies have 13 armies (counting the Belgian and Dutch armies) to the Germans' 8. However, once those Allied armies do become Disrupted by Stukas and/or repeated hammering on the ground by the more highly concentrated/powerful Wehrmacht units, an accelerating Allied breakdown and collapse of 1940 can be achieved and replicated by the German player. Note the positioning of the phase for the Recovery of Disrupted units, so that Disruption of retreating Belgian and French forces can be maintained and because of their Disruption they can then even be more easily eliminated in the immediately following Blitzkrieg phase and even the following game-turn.

That is, if properly emplaced and entrenched, Allied units can form a hard crust, but once that begins to crack it can quickly disintegrate.

And don't forget to keep the Channel ports accessible to the BEF. :-)

Bon Chance!

See Part 1 of Notes on Teutons

See Part 2 of Notes on Teutons


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