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 Gefreiter (lance corporals) using a light mortar, the 5 cm leichter Granatwerfer 36 (5 cm leGrW 36). It could lob a 0.9 kg grenade up to 520 meters, and provided fire support at platoon and company level. It was easy to transport, but over-engineered, with not enough of a range and too light a round. Still, it was useful in the early years of the war. Production was discontinued in 1941, and the weapon phased out as mortars were lost and ammunition stocks dwindled.
The soldiers wear greatcoats, the second guy from the right clad in the all-grey version introduced in 1940. His comrades wear the M1939, which has a dark green, more narrow collar. They all wear double decal helmets; the black-white-red national colors shield was eliminated in 1940, and the eagle decal in 1943. Still, helmets could still be seen sporting decals by the end of the war.
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.
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.
Orléans, France, late June 1940. The wreck of a French Potez 63.11, the reconnaisance version in the Potez family of twin-engined heavy fighters and light bombers, has ended up on the Pont Royal bridge. The bridge was renamed “Pont George V” after the war as recognition of Britain’s role in the war. The city of Orléans was a transport hub for the German occupation forces, and became the target of extensive bombing.
The Potez 630 family was the French equivalent of the German Messerschmitt Bf 110. While reportedly pleasant to fly, it was somewhat underpowered and not heavily armed. Its performance wasn’t impressive, and it suffered if faster enemy fighters were present.
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…
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.