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Achievements and failures of military intelligence: France 1940

Author : 🕔13.02.2013 📕24.045
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The speed with which Nazi Germany defeated France in 1940 shocked the world. The Wehrmacht defeated the French army, which had been considered the most respected military force in Europe for twenty years, in less than seven weeks. The reason for the German victory ( and the French defeat ) were mainly differences in the military doctrine of the two countries, the operational art of the command corps and the level of training of their troops. The result of the war was also due to the different approach of the French and German armies to the collection of intelligence and, in particular, to its evaluation and use.


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German planning

Two days after the start of the German invasion of Poland on September 3, 1939, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. Hitler hoped to persuade the two great powers to tolerate his further territorial gains and to make peace with them. In the event that the negotiations were unsuccessful, on October 9, 1939, he announced in his " Leader's Directive No. 6 " his intention to invade Western Europe. On October 19, the first operational plan of the German Land Army's high command for the offensive in Western Europe - the " Fall Gelb " - was completed . The original version of the plan was only a primitive variant of the so-called Schlieffen plan - to bypass the Maginot Linethrough neutral Belgium, or The Netherlands and Luxembourg. The plan has undergone many adjustments and changes over time. It underwent the most extensive revision after an emergency landing of a plane with a German courier carrying plans for an attack on the Netherlands and Belgium on 10 January 1940 in Belgium. In February, Hitler accepted Manstein's proposals and a definitive form of the plan was created - the so-called Sichelschnitt ( Sickle Cut ). The main strike ( 45 divisions incl. Seven tanks ) under von Rundstedt 's command is to lead through the Ardennes to the section between Dinant and Sedan, 29 divisions ( von Bock ) are to bind Allied forces in the north and 19 divisions ( von Leeb ), facing the Maginot Line, to prevent the transfer of French troops to other sections.

French planning

The French general, who learned operational thinking on the battlefields of the First World War, stagnated in development and failed to accept the revolutionary changes in the military. At the same time, she had the opportunity to get acquainted with the Wehrmacht and his " blitzkrieg " already during the Spanish Civil War, and especially during the Polish campaign. Thus, the French still relied on Germany to repeat Schlieffen's plan ( especially after receiving plans from Belgium from a German courier plane).). The strongest French divisions, along with the British Expeditionary Force, were thus concentrated in the north near the Belgian border. The other sections were occupied by average and below-average units. The Ardennes were considered by the French command to be impassable to the modern army. And even if an attack came from this direction, the movement of heavy equipment in mountainous terrain would take so long that it would be time to move their own reserves.

German news

The Abwehr has been engaged in offensive intelligence against France since its inception and continued to do so after 1945, when Admiral Canaris took over.. He built an extensive network of agents in France - in addition to ethnic Germans, there were also local fascists and various adventurers willing to betray their homeland for money. The Abwehr recruited officers and officials who got into financial difficulties with great success. He established several credit institutions that offered loans in newspaper advertisements. The applicants he was interested in received a loan with a short maturity, which they were often unable to meet. Most of such debtors then ended up in the service of the Abwehr. For example, a cavalry officer was obtained for the German intelligence service, who first passed on reports about his unit and then, at the command of the Abwehr, went to a military school, from where he brought secret materials. Another traitor was a naval ensign who gave the Germans codes, information about radio traffic, training reports, ports ...

The intensity of intelligence intensified after the entry of German troops into the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. The Abwehr managed to penetrate into the 2nd Department of the French General Staff.

One of the most important tasks of the Abwehr was to gather information about the Maginot Line. Civilian contractors of fortification work did not worry about secrecy, so the Germans easily obtained construction documentation. At the beginning of 1939, one of the agents provided photo documentation of the entire defense system and even details of armaments, barricades, transport and communications equipment. The Germans received further documentation on the Maginot Line in March 1939 after the occupation of Prague.

In important places of interest - in the vicinity of border fortifications, military garrisons and airports - the Abwehr set up shops, newsstands and pubs for its residents. This allowed them to discreetly instruct and pay subordinate agents. Before the attack began, the Wehrmacht had detailed information about each bunker and fortress, their crew and the mobilization possibilities of the French.

The Abwehr's interest was not only focused on the mainland - it was also interested in the navy and merchant navy, ports and their capacity, and coastal facilities. In April 1940, a particularly valuable catch fell into German hands - a senior naval officer gave them information on the deployment of all warships and the mobilization plans of the French navy.

Since October 1939, the German intelligence service has succeeded in deciphering radio messages between the Ministry of War and subordinate units not only in France, but also in North Africa and Syria. The Germans thus had the opportunity to become acquainted with the shortcomings in the organization of the army and this allowed them to monitor the development of the Franco-British strategy.

The important thing, however, was that the Germans were able not only to gather intelligence, but mainly to analyze and use it. The head of the Foreign Army West Department ( Fremde Heere West ) since its establishment at the Ministry of War and later at the OKH ( High Command of the Ground Forces ) was Major General Kurt von Tippelskirch. In November 1938, von Tippelskirch was promoted and succeeded by Lt. Col. Ulrich Liss. Under their leadership, the department dealt with the evaluation of supplied intelligence materials, analyzes and scientific war research. He worked closely with the General Staff Planners. Liss even played the role of commander-in-chief of enemy units in operational simulations. Intelligence officers from foreign armies were an integral part of the General Staff. Their task was to plan an offensive against France, knowing that France not only had the natural advantages of a defender, but surpassed Germany's fighting forces in numbers, quantity and quality of armament. Liss and his people managed to uncover the weaknesses of the French and British operational concepts. It was their analyzes that became the basis for Sichelschnitt - Manstein's modification of the Fall Gelb plan.

French news

On the French side, it was exactly the opposite. Due to a complete intelligence failure, the Allied Command for the first three days of the German attack did not fully understand what was happening on the battlefield, and sent the weakest and worst-controlled units against the advancing Wehrmacht.

The Deuxieme Bureau, the second ( intelligence ) department of the General Staff of the French Army, was the most important Allied intelligence service in 1939 and 1940. It consisted of two subdivisions - its own office and Service de Renseignements ( SR, information service ). Representatives of the Army and Air Force were active in the Slovak Republic; naval intelligence had a certain independence, but all knowledge was passed on to the Slovak Republic. She was in daily contact with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Civil Secret Service and the police, and her bosses were allowed to task with other intelligence services. It was almost an ideal centralization of news.

The Slovak Republic had remarkable resources. After the defeat of Poland in the autumn of 1939, Polish cryptanalysts emigrated to France, who managed to break the codes of the German encryption engine Enigma. The French thus gained access to the most classified German information. In addition, the Slovak Republic had an extensive network of agents and managed several double agents in the Abwehr. In addition, she received information from anti-Nazi officers from command staffs.

Despite the extraordinary ability to gather information, the Deuxieme Bureau did not find that the Germans were planning a surprise attack across the Ardennes. The reason for the reporting failure was the complete lack of analysis of the findings. The Deuxieme Bureau issued daily and weekly reports with chronologically arranged reports from different sources, but without commentary and comparison. Thus, reports from the early May of 1940 on German reconnaissance flights over the Ardennes, on fuel depots along the German-Luxembourg border, and on an instruction to a double agent to find out whether the bridges over the Masses could carry the weight of tanks were not linked. The Deuxieme Bureau apparently considered that the conclusions of these reports must be drawn by their recipients.

Another serious problem was that the Deuxieme Bureau had little seriousness in the military. Elite officers from the General Staff were unwilling to waste time debating with reporters. They did not even try to analyze the transmitted information, because they could not assess their use. They did not know how operational officers assessed German intentions, nor did they know the plans of their own army.

In the end, even the Allied Commanders were not interested in information that contradicted the assumptions under which they drew up their operational plans.

Aftermath

The Allied Command did not recognize signals indicating a German attack on the Ardennes and deployed the weakest units in this section. The invasion of Belgium on May 10 was considered the main strike of the offensive. The best French and British troops were immediately sent in that direction. On the morning of May 13, Allied commanders were convinced that the main battlefield was flat central Belgium and that the Allies were in the best position to achieve victory. Only in the evening, when the news arrived that Rommel's 7th Panzer Division overcame Mass, it became clear that the main German attack was being conducted over the Ardennes and the Allies were in danger of defeat. On May 22, German tanks attacked the harbors on the English Channel. On May 23, the British decided to evacuate their expeditionary force, the evacuation ended on June 4. On June 14, the Germans occupied Paris and on June 22, France capitulated.

The French lost 2,190,000 men ( 90,000 killed, 200,000 wounded and 1,900,000 wounded and captured ), the British lost 68,000, the Belgians lost 23,000 and the Dutch lost almost 10,000 soldiers. The German losses amounted to 156,000 men, of which 27,000 fell. Germany acquired territory, material resources and used the rest of the French male population for slave labor. Hitler's confidence and belief in his own infallibility grew even more. Germany could begin to prepare for further wars.


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Sources:
Text:
A. Shepperd: France 1940
P. Warner: Battle of France 1940
J. Pielkalkiewicz: World War II
J. Brooch: Hitler's Spy Ace and Abwehr
W. Krieger: Secret Services in World History
Text and image:
https: / /en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_France
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_Gelb#Fall_Gelb
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitva_o_Francii

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Author : 🕔13.02.2013 📕24.045