Phoney War, part 2

Three of the men from the photo in the previous post are building a barbed wire entanglement and digging a foxhole, somewhere along the Franco-German border during the “Phoney War”, September 1939 to May 1940. This was pretty much what the “Siegfried Line” amounted to, as the Germans hadn’t finished building the line of bunkers and other fortifications that would later go under the name “Westwall“.

While the bulk of the German army was engaged in Poland, the western border was held by a much smaller force. At the much more intimidating Maginot Line across the border, British and French troops stood facing them, but there were only some local skirmishes, while in the air there were occasional dogfights between fighter planes.

The Saar Offensive was a French attack into the Saarland defended by the German 1st Army. It started on 7 September, its purpose to assist Poland, but the assault was stopped after a few kilometres and the French forces withdrew. Eleven French divisions had advanced along a 32 km line near Saarbrücken against weak German opposition, but the attack didn’t result in the diversion of any German troops from Poland. According to the Franco-Polish agreement, on the 15th day of the mobilisation (that is on 16 September), the French Army was to start a full-scale assault on Germany, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the French informed the Poles that the major offensive on the western front planned from 17–20 September had to be postponed. At the same time, French divisions were ordered to withdraw to their barracks along the Maginot Line, beginning the Phoney War.

At the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, German military commander Alfred Jodl said that “if we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.” General Siegfried Westphal stated that if the French had attacked in force in September 1939, the German Army “could only have held out for one or two weeks.” The German Army had ammunition stocks good for two weeks, so any major Allied offensive would’ve been devastating. Hitler could’ve been stopped in the autumn of 1939, had the Western Allies been more decisive. Instead, on 10 May 1940, the German Army attacked, and it would take almost five years before the Allies crossed the border to finish Hitler’s Reich, tens of millions of dead people later.

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