The WWII went down as the most ruthless show of mighty among various warring factions which at the end left destructions which were unimaginable. Some of the hard-hit territories included France and which came under attack from its neighbor Germany. But why would Germany do such an act against its neighbor?
Treaty Of Versailles
It all lies in the lust for conquest by the German leader Hitler among other things. France had a reputation of being the military masters of Europe, everybody respected that Germans included. They had been at war with the Germans before and during WWI which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles -an armistice which was humiliating and punitive. WWI had affected on the Germans badly, reducing their soldiers to less than a hundred thousand, their armored vehicles had been destroyed and the air force left with just a hundred search and rescue aircraft. On the other hand, France had taken to rebuild its army, modernizing it, had started to motorize many of its infantry divisions and armored units were formed. Paris believed they had a watertight security system; they had put in place defensive mechanism which was meant to weaken the Germans if they attacked and then transition to offensive hence neutralize the enemy completely-they had built the Maginot Line for this purpose among other developments.
Did overconfidence by General Charles Huntziger cost France to lose the battle? Most probably, because he remained adamant that their methodology was the best and had instilled fear among the Germans, therefore, they would not find any motivation to attack. Even after a parliamentary army committee inspected the defenses in Sedan and expressed their fears of France over-reliance on natural obstacles like the Meuse River to shield Sedan against German invasion, Huntziger who was the General in charge of the city would dismiss the report casually. He said there was nothing to take stock of the report because “the Germans are dead afraid of attacking” (Source: The Scout.com). He had gone further to assure his troops that the observed preparations by the German army were just a mere exercise, as Germans would not risk facing twenty-seven Belgian divisions.
There was justification for the overconfidence though, France had over one thousand more tanks than the Germans, their tanks were better armored and had very powerful main guns. They were also recognized as global leaders in artillery. All this time, Wehrmacht, were on the drawing board and soon France-British Alliance would fall into their hands. France would commit a large number of its infantry divisions to the north with an aim of countering the Germans from there leaving its light forces to protect the southern part which was heavily forested and had a mountainous terrain.
They believed the presence of a difficult terrain would deter Germans to form an offensive from that side. To confuse further France’s intelligence, Germans sent large numbers of troops to the North into Belgium and Netherlands, and which worked as France continued to fortify its army on the north. Germans were preparing to make their main attack on the South though, they had identified the gaps left in the Ardennes, the mountainous side, and they knew they would succeed penetrating through the Meuse River into Sedan. And on May 10, 1940, the Germans were now closing in to Sedan a battle which was led by one of the most accomplished leaders of the war Lt. Col Hermann Balck.
Balck would lead the First Rifle Regiment across the river, bombarding France and on May 13 opening up French arterially barrage. The fierce bombardment went on to overwhelm French troops eventually silencing them. There was no turning back and as his troops started celebrating he could use his astuteness to order his men for further attacks into more secluded areas of the French military. Though his men exhibited fatigue he could push and inspire them through the concrete highly reinforced French bunkers and further 10 kilometers inside into Bouvellemont. They had managed to break the last of French resistance and secure Meuse crossing and with such success, Balck would get promoted to lead a panzer brigade.
It’s the fearlessness and sometimes brutal leadership of German leaders that inspired their troops to overcome all hurdles and make such achievements something which was lacking with French troops.
Though finally, France ended up victorious in WWII and Germany lost we can read a lot from the leadership traits of the German soldiers but identify a grave mistake by the French military leadership which portrayed arrogance, fear and leadership failure thereby giving the Germans an upper hand.