Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Kämpfen wie Gott in Frankreich

In the continuing series of games dealing with the what-if scenario where the French don’t surrender in 1940, this was a committee game dealing with the German reaction to the French continuing the war.

In preparing this game, I reread a large part of Karl-Heinz Friesers’ Blitzkrieg-Legende, and I was struck again by how much the Germans seem to have won the 1940 campaign by accident: if any of a series of coincidences had not come to pass, our narrative of May and June 1940 would have been entirely different.

One of the things that shows up repeatedly is the Germans’ fear of a long war. They were very much aware that they were outnumbered and outproduced by the Allies, and people like Franz Halder, the chief of the German General Staff, were quite convinced that a war against France and Britain combined was not actually a war they could win.

The interesting question, then, is how the Germans would have reacted when confronted with a France that fights on after Dunkirk – of course they have won a major victory very easily, but they still have to deal with the remaining French army before doing anything else (this ‘anything else’, of course, being going east).

In fact, it turned out that this wasn’t particularly interesting as a game – or at least not as the committee game I’d envisaged it as. The idea was that there could be some conflict in the German General Staff, but in the end there really isn’t that much of a choice – they have to go on fighting the French Army; consolidating and leaving the French in the south would be quite foolish.

So, the Germans came to a plan of operations relatively quickly – I’m not going to go into too much details, because I’m still hoping to play the fourth game in the series: the German attack on the rest of France (by logical progression, I guess it would have to be called Fall Lila). I’m really looking forward to this one – the German army has superior numbers, but the French are defending in good terrain, morale is still good and they have learned the lessons of May 1940 (it is a fact that German casualties in France were actually higher after Dunkirk…).

Stay tuned!

Literature

After the game, we had a long discussion about the 1940 campaign in general, and by popular request (and this mostly means Nick L.), here are some of the books I’ve used as inspiration for this series of games. I know that the authoritative source in the English-speaking world is still Alistair Horne’s book, How to lose a battle, but here are a few other works, also in other languages:

  • Karl-Heinz Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende (translated into English as Blitzkrieg Legend); the 1940 campaign from the German perspective – which shows that the Germans first intended to go for a conventional offensive through Belgium, and only changed this to the actual plan they executed through all sorts of coincidences – also, Blitzkrieg was never the intention and the German High Command (or at least Hitler) learned entirely the wrong lesson, with disastrous consequences in 1941.
  • Julian Jackson, The fall of France – a good general overview, and from what I can tell, reasonably neutral; on the whole, literature in English tends to be quite dismissive of the French (can’t imagine why…)
  • Dominique Lormier, Comme des Lions – another good general overview that explicitly points out that the French army of 1940 was not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. It is, therefore, biased, but the point is worth making. Lormier has also written La bataille de France jour après jour, which is exactly what it says on the tin, and also covers the post-Dunkirk period (even if mostly by pointing out all the heroic but doomed actions the French fought, such as the story of the cadets de Saumur).
  • Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, Les Français de l’an 40; 2 parts – a wonderful work that, as the title suggests, presents the France of 1940 in its entirety; politics, culture, the military. Of all the books in the list, this is the one I’d recommend most, unless you’re only interested in the military part of the story.
  • Bruno Chaix, En mai 1940, fallait-il entrer en Belgique? – overview of French and allied strategy in 1939/1940 (if I ever write a history book, I’m going to write about Dutch/Belgian/Allied plans before the German attack and how they didn’t fit together at all – there’s so much going on there, with politics and military plans interweaving; almost a perfect storm)
  • Jean Vanwelkenhuyzen – Pleins feux sur un désastre – a slightly more detailed overview by one of the undisputed experts on the 1940 campaign

And finally, the inspiration for the whole thing:

https://www.1940lafrancecontinue.org/

(which has been turned into books, comic albums, and God knows what else – but only in French…)

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3 Comments
  1. Andy Grainger

    Congratulations on reading the French sources Jaap. Ever since Springtime in 1990 I have felt the French soldiers were ill served by their leaders as they were in 1870 and to an extent in 1914. We Brits are lucky to have the English Channel.

  2. An enjoyable session. My apologies for being too cooperative. Perhaps the strategic choices for the Germans are straightforward. The only unknown is what will the Italians do, and the consensus was “not very much” so don’t build them into any plans.

    The political and military choices from the French and British are probably more problematic and thus more gameable.

    In the final chapter of this multi-session game, will you need to run the Germans or just have them do what they do?

    Thanks for the bibliography. Worrying that nothing has been written since Horne, published back in 1969, and by a writer, not an academic historian.

    • Jaap Boender

      The Jackson book is more recent (2004) and written by an academic but yes, there does not seem to be a lot of English-language material out there – Dunkirk gets a lot of coverage, of course, but the French contribution then also generally gets left out (I found Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s Dunkirk book quite painful in how scathing he is about the French army). I just had a glance at the Wikipedia bibliography and there is an interesting book from 2019 by Richard Carswell (The Fall of France in the Second World War: History and Memory) which seems more of a meta-history. Most of the recent work is in French (or Dutch – there is also an excellent fairly recent book on the Dutch part of the 1940 campaign which, I see, has been translated into English (May 1940: The Battle for the Netherlands)).

      I’m certainly planning to play the final chapter out on a larger scale – you could conceivably do an update of Springtime for Hitler with this scenario, but that’s probably too enthusiastic. I’m hoping to get a dozen or so players together so that we can play both the French and German sides at high command/army group level – this is going to be an epic battle and I’d like to do it justice.

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