- Jul 1, 2007
4th July 1940
The French Army was defeated. Morale, although still comparatively high, was not enough to hold the Axis forces at bay any longer, and the indecisiveness of the French General Staff was not helping at all. Still, with Gamelin back, things were looking up. Over the last days, German and Soviet Armour had raced across northern France, brushing aside everything in their path, taking Reims and pushing towards Lilles and Metz, in order to keep the French guessing. From the directions of the various pushes several scenarios came to mind, a direct push towards Paris from Reims, another one towards the Channel to cut off the Allied Forces in the Pas de Calais and Picardie. The push south from Verdun could, had to be aimed at neutralizing the Maginot Line and to release the two German Armies that were held down by the line of fortifications, and that had been repulsed by the massive works time and again. The Belgians were reeling from their losses and started to evaquate what remained of their Army, at best a few Regiments worth of troops to England to be reformed there. The BEF itself was attempting to reorganize itself to the North of Paris, and would need several days to be back in fighting strength. No, the French had no one to rely on, and Gamelin knew this. In the back of his mind he knew that France was beaten, but unlike men like Weygand and Petain, he knew that there was something to be gained from prolonging it all. For one, French honour demanded it, especially after the retreat from Mons, and secondly, they were fighting more than their second-oldest enemy, they were fighting Communism, an ideology that was even more dangerous than Fascism. Each hour France gained was one more that the British had to prepare themselves. He did not like the British much either, but at least they did not follow the ideology of a fat, balding beardy drunkard. It pained him as a Frenchman, but the British were their best chance for Victory. Still, he had to keep the Axis Forces off guard íf he wanted to give the BEF a chance to return to the fight. To do this, eight French and the last remaining Belgian Division had been massed at certain locations. He picked up the phone and said only one word. “Move.”
An hour later, Artillery fire thundered to the west of Valenciennes. This time it weren't British or Axis, but rather French guns that delivered the opening barrage. All restrictions on the expenditure of shells were lifted, and the French gunners banged away as hard as they could. French Motorized Infantry, supported by the six Char 2Cs and several Battalions of Char Bs, moved in on the heels of the barrage, catching that Germans that had not expected a French counterattack off guard. Valenciennes was retaken at the evening of the 4th, and the Belgian border was reached during mid-day of the 5th. It was clear by then that the main German push had to come somewhere else, considering the relatively small number of troops in this area. General de Gaulle, commander of the Armoured section of this ad-hoc Army pushed onwards in the spirit of Armoured warfare that the French Army was only beginning to understand and did the impossible, he almost re-took Mons before he was halted more by outrunning his supplies than actual combat. By the time the advance could resume on the 8th, the Germans and Soviets had rushed reserves into the area and halted him twenty miles south of Mons. Despite this, the counterattack had done one valuable service to the Allied war effort that would not be realized by the Allied Generals until after the war, because it had preceeded the massive German attack from Reims towards Paris by a day, an attack that would have driven right into the heart of the French nation and captured most, of not all of the members of the Government, not to speak from the units of the BEF that were stationed to the North of Paris and that were still sorting themselves out. In a frenzy Hitler and Stalin, currently in Spa to oversee the battle for France, had called off the push and redirected the units north to meet the French. This had probably saved the Allied War effort and allowed the BEF to rejoin the fighting.
However, by the time the British were in the line again, guarding the base of the French Salient to the north and the south, the second, smaller Axis push started. Knowing that shifting the three Divisons from Mons back south was not possible, Zhukov and Guderian called off the attack towards Paris, opting for a push that might do even more damage in the long run. Two pronged, the attack would first feint towards Paris, a task carried out by some of the Soviet forces that were in the line east of Reims. They would attack towards Troyes, hopefully making the Allies believe that they were attempting to attack Paris from the flank, whilst German Infantry, spearheaded by the German Panzer Divisions in the best shape, would attack south from the Verdun front, driving as far south as they could. This however was not the main attack, which would fall somewhere else. The three moved Divisions, all of them Armoured, attacked the base of the salient, about halfway between the forward French position in Belgium and the lines of the British, attempting to cut off De Gaulles forces in the north. This attack went in on the 9th, but dogged resistance by the French and severe fighter opposition by RAF France and the Armée de l'Air that destroyed any possibility of Air support, giving the French General to beat a hasty retreat that soon turned into a rout. Meanwhile General Ironside had decided that there was no point in keeping the BEF open to a flanking attack and had pulled back the units on his northern flanks to form a coherent line again. If the Axies attacked now, they would run into a brick wall of British steel. But the enemy did not have any intention of attacking the British anyway, being totally concentrated on trying to destroy the rapidly retreating French forces. By the end of the 10th only one suitable road remained, and if it were to fall, the two French Divisions still inside the salient would be lost forever. The Germans knew as much and threw the few Brigades still in fighting trimm at the exhausted Belgian Division guarding the road. Dying in the field, the Division managed to keep the road open long enough for the French to retreat through. As soon as the last units had passed, the Belgians, now at mere Regimental strength, with only nine-hundred men of a starting sixthousand still alive, wounded included, surrendered. Once more dogged Allied resistance had foiled axis plans, but it had come at a price. The French were experiencing a manpower shortage that was so severe that no more new Divisions were formed. The Communist insurgency had largely died down, but there were simply no more men, and many of the French Divisions already in the field were understrength. There were simply no more men to be had anywhere.
The 10th had also seen combat somewhere else. The second diversionary attack towards Troyes had also occupied the soldiers on both sides. The Soviets attacked along a large front, in the same old style and were met in the same old style. The scythe went through the charging Soviet Infantry, but the battered and exhausted French had no choice but to yield after two hours of constant battle. Fighting fierce rearguard action in a night filled with death, blood and steel the French were forced to retreat to the west of the city, giving the Soviets the opportunity to catch the Allied units around Paris in the flank. Panic reigned in the French captial, and the Government began to evacuate the city, prepared to declare it an open city the moment it became known the Soviets were approaching. Once again the Allied Generals of all nation let themselves be fooled, as the main drive in this part of the front was aimed at Chaumont. The aim of the German Panzers was the city of Chaumont, giving the Germans the chance to cut off the remaining fortifications of the Maginot line. This sent the French General staff into an even greater frenty, amplified when news came that German Infantry had started to assault the French positions in Strassbourg. Meetings began. Secret, discreet meetings that bordered on treason. In the spa of Vichy General Weygand met with General Petain, and both men agreed that something needed to be done.
11th July 1940
[Notes: I hereby make a rule that combat updates never cover more than a week apiece. The French did actually attack and retook the Mons province. However, what I wrote in the narrative is more realistic. Am I rushing this too much? By the time of posting, I am writing the next update. With narrative. YAY! The problem with the large battles raging in France at the moment is that it is next to impossible to fit them in narrative that is concentrated on two or three people.]