An Outdated and Unresponsive French Command Structure Led to German Victory in the French Campaign of 1940

An Outdated and Unresponsive French Command Structure Led to German Victory in the French Campaign of 1940

By Thomas White

 

 There were many factors that led to the German victory overFrancein 1940, but first and foremost amongst these factors was the unresponsiveness of an antiquated French centralized command structure that could not deal effectively with a modern World War II German operational strategy. The French military were constrained by a military command structure stuck in a World War I defensive operational strategy that micromanaged all aspects of the mission. This micromanagement resulted in inflexibility and unresponsiveness to changes on the battlefield as they occurred. The Germans employed an innovative operational strategy which employed both tanks and aircraft. The French were incapable of responding with meaningful military counter measures, thus leading to a sound defeat.

 The French military high command was unresponsive because it was mired down in obsolete World War I military operational strategy, which favored a defensive posture. This defensive position consisted of French operational strategies which were planned in infinite detail at the higher echelons of command, and then handed down to the field level. The result on the French side was that there was no flexibility for change, and the planning “was always set at too slow a beat”[1] and therefore could not effectively deal with the ever changing realities of an attacking strategy as employed by the Germans. The Germans on the other hand, utilized an attacking posture, a “war of movement”[2], that employed the use of armor and aircraft which threw the “Western powers into unholy confusion”[3]

The French military command was still stuck in a World War I haze and could not even grasp “the full potential of tanks as independent operators capable of decisive, long-distance action”[4], making any operational strategy against the Germans a somewhat moot point since “the Wehrmacht did not adhere to French conceptions”[5]. Further exasperating the difficulties faced by the French was a German force that had a much more forward thinking officer corps that “left subordinate commanders a measure of freedom of action…”[6] This measure of freedom embedded in the German officer corps allowed for a certain flexibility and improvisation to be employed when necessary in order to meet military objectives.

The key difference here between the French and the German forces was that the German forces were given a mission statement with some operational flexibility for accomplishing that mission and this allowed them to be successful. Finally when assessing the inadequacy of the French military command structure for responding to the attack initiated upon it by the German forces, then French Premier M. Reynaud summarized the French position at the time best when he stated “that our classic conception of warfare has run counter to a new conception…”[7], an operational strategy that the antiquated French military high command was simply too ill equipped to deal with.

 

Bibliography

 

Armstrong, Hamilton F. “The Downfall of France” Foreign Affairs 19. no.1 (1940), 76, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20029051. (accessed September 24, 2010).

 

Bloch, Marc. Strange Defeat, p.43 as quoted in Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005

 

Frieser, Karl-Heinz The Blitzkrieg Legend.Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005

 

Kiesling, Eugenia C. “Illuminating “Strange Defeat” and “Pyrrhic Victory”: The Historian Robert A. Doughty The Journal of Military History 71. no.3 (2007), 879, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30052893. (accessed September 24, 2010).

 

 

 


[1] Marc Bloch, Strange Defeat, p.43 as quoted in Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005, 326

[2] Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005, 347

[3] Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend, 347

[4] Eugenia C. Kiesling, “Illuminating “Strange Defeat” and “Pyrrhic Victory”: The Historian Robert A. Doughty The Journal of Military History 71. no.3 (2007), 879, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30052893. (accessed September 24, 2010).

[5] Kiesling. “Illuminating “Strange Defeat” and “Pyrrhic Victory”, 880

[6] Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend, 337

[7] Hamilton F. Armstrong, “The Downfall of France” Foreign Affairs 19. no.1 (1940), 76, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20029051. (accessed September 24, 2010).

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