Burial detail

The aftermath of battle… A group of German soldiers is about to take care of three dead French soldiers. The place is Boulogne-sur-Mer, a day or three after the Germans captured the Channel coast port town on 25 May, 1940. French and British units defended the town against attacks by the 2. Panzer-Division. The British managed to evacuate the majority of their troops, but a rearguard was left together with the French units, the survivors going into captivity for the next five years.

The delay caused by the fighting for Boulogne was a contributing factor to the success of the evacuation at Dunkerque. The few extra days meant that the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force got away. The dead French soldiers in that street corner never knew that their deaths were part of the price for the “Miracle of Dunkirk”.

Three amigos

A trio of cheerful guys, bespectacled and with classy straight pipes. The back of the photo only says “Januar 1944”. The place is western Europe – France, Belgium or the Netherlands – and their branch of service is probably the coastal artillery, which was the responsibility of the Kriegsmarine (Navy). There are some subtle differences to their uniforms that make me think that, mostly the style of their sidecaps and an emblem on their shoulderboards (visible under magnification on the original photo). Anyway, little do they know that they’ll probably be in combat in five months. Hopefully the three friends survived the war.

Bad-ass blunderbuss

Some photos can be puzzling. I looked at it and thought “What the hell is that?” Well, for starters, it isn’t a blunderbuss, but a Canon d’Infanterie de 37 modèle 1916 TRP. The flared muzzle is a flash suppressor on the rapid-firing 37 mm infantry support gun. Originally a French weapon, it was used by the US Army in World War 1 as well as some other nations, and saw use by both the French and the Germans during WW2. At a weight of 108 kilos, it wasn’t that mobile. It was crewed by two soldiers, gunner and loader. When loaded on a limber, it could be pulled by a horse. Anyway, one of the more obscure weapons, which was identified by the knowledgeable Mr Yan Taylor on Axis History Forum.

 

 

Ravaged Maid of Orléans

Another photo from Orléans, summer of 1940. In Place du Martroi, surrounded by ruins, stands the statue of the Maid of Orléans, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc). The 15th century virgin general and national saint is a symbol of France, and to be there with German soldiers walking the streets around her statue must’ve felt like an insult to patriotic Frenchmen. The huge bronze statue by Denis Foyatier was erected in 1855 and survived the war. The city was one of the first to be rebuilt after the war, and care was taken to reconstruct historical Buildings. Today, the Place du Martroi looks pretty much like it did before German and Allied bombs destroyed the neighborhood.

Destruction

Workers clearing debris in the ruins of a French town, summer of 1940. I have a number of photos from the Battle of France, showing many towns and villages damaged to a greater or lesser degree. German bombing raids during the six weeks the campaign lasted caused the deaths of about 3,250 civilians. It’s hard to find the total number of civilan deaths due to combat action.

Still, in the coming years, France would be the target of a great number of British and American air raids, hitting factories, ports and communications. Over 50,000 French civilians were killed by Allied bombs between 1940 and 1944. Close to 20,000 civilians died in Normandy alone in conjunction with bomb raids and combat action on D-Day and the weeks afterwards. The war destroyed 1.2 million French homes, taking a generation to rebuild. Other countries suffered even more, Poland perhaps worst of all. This is the oft-neglected effect of war when history is written, and some of it is conveniently forgotten, like the French killed by their saviors…

Same same but different

Two knocked out Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (heavy reconnaisance car) Sd.Kfz. 231 8-Rad (left) and 6-Rad (right), France, 18 June 1940. The one to the left is the eight-wheeled version, while the other is the six-wheeled. Judging by the damage, the right one has burned extensively, and is a total write-off. The other has lost its tires for some unclear reason, as there aren’t any definite signs of fire damage.

The Sd.Kfz. 231 family of armored cars were produced with different armament and radio equipment options. The six-wheelers were produced until 1937, when the eight-wheelers were introduced, featuring better crosscountry capabilities. With a top speed of 85 kph on roads, it was a capable vehicle for armored reconnaisance. The armament, usually a 20 mm automatic cannon, wasn’t intended for attack, but for returning fire if the vehicle ran into opposition. The point of reconnaisance is return with intelligence, and not engaging enemies if avoidable.

The 6-Rad saw little frontline action after 1941, while the 8-Rad was in use until the last days of the war in the form of the Sd.Kfz. 234.

Spoils of war

A big pile of captured French firearms and other equipment has been collected in the back of a truck. Jumbled together are Lebel and Berthier rifles, M1886 bayonets, ammunition pouches and an Adrian helmet. The German practice of using captured weapons, Beutewaffen, was extended to French weapons, too. Some of the rifles were issued to occupation troops in France, others to anti-partisan and security units in Eastern Europe. In a stroke of irony, some were even used in the defense of Berlin in 1945.