5. Germany Invades The West

Posted: February 8, 2011 in World War 2
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At the time the Germans put their Case Yellow Invasion plans into effect on May 10th, 1940, they were actually outnumbered on the western front. Not counting the 19 divisions they had deployed defensively along the Maginot Line & the 42 divisions they were holding in reserve, the Germans had 75 divisions available for their invasion of the Low Countries. Opposing them were 144 Allied divisions: 101 French, 22 Belgian, 11 British & 10 Dutch. Even with 36 of the French divisions also tied down on the Maginot Line (which the Germans didn’t attack), the Allies were still able to commit 81 divisions, excluding reserves, to the German assault. The Allied weaknesses; therefore, weren’t manpower, or even equipment, but inferior strategy, leadership & training.

Both sides had about the same number & quality of tanks, yet the Allies dispersed theirs to support individual infantry formations, while the Germans concentrated their tanks in irresistible armored divisions, which spearheaded the German attack. Receiving little help from the Allies, the Netherlands fell within five days, as Nazi paratroopers quickly seized control of the canal & river bridges that were the key to the Dutch defenses. The Belgians, meanwhile, with a larger army & stronger fortifications, proved more resistant, but they, too, succumbed to German speed, daring & cleverness. The anchor of Belgium’s eastern defenses, for example, was the reputedly impregnable Fort Eben Emael, near Liège. Because its heavy guns commanded several important invasion routes, the Germans had to neutralize its firepower. Hitler himself provided the solution. “The top is like a meadow,” he said of the mostly buried fortress. “Gliders can land on it.” Indeed, they could, & fewer than one hundred airborne troops were able to stage a surprise landing, trap the fort’s 750 defenders underground, & blow up its big guns.

According to a previously arranged plan, thousands of French & British soldiers moved rapidly into Belgium to take up defensive positions on the Meuse & Dyle Rivers – only to find themselves outflanked by German forces pushing through Luxembourg & the lightly defended Belgian Ardennes. A Panzer corps led personally by Lt. General Heinz Guderian, the father of the Blitzkrieg, crossed the Meuse near Sedan & dashed to the coast, reaching the English Channel near the mouth of the Somme on May 20th. From this point on, the Allied forces in Belgium & northern France were trapped.

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