French Invasion Stopping Germany in 1939?
When someone discusses alternate history regarding World War II it usually takes the form of what if Germany had invaded Britain through Operation Sea Lion or if the Japanese had not bombed Pearl Harbor or any other number of compelling scenarios.
One such situation that is often overlooked is the Saar Offensive of September, 1939 conducted by the French Army. According to the treaty between France and Poland,the Franco-Polish Military Convention, if Poland was attacked by Germany the French Army was supposed to launch a full scale assault against Germany by the 15th day of full mobilization for war.
The French at the time had a numerical advantage on the Western Front. They were able to field a full 40 divisions while the Germans manning the Siegfried Line only numbered 22 divisions. When factoring in the British divisions that were mobilized and being sent to the continent, the Allies had upwards of 110 divisions to bring to battle against the German defenders.
While the Allies had a distinct numerical superiority over the Germans in September of 1939, particularly on the Western Front, the lack of modern artillery, tanks, and antiquated World War I tactics hampered the French response to the German invasion of Poland. While German armies utilizing blitzkrieg, which stands for lightning war, tactics were able to steamroll the non-mechanized forces in Poland the French forces advanced extremely slow into German lines.
The French advanced started on September 7th and by September 16th, the day that the French were supposed to start a full assault by virtue of the Franco-Polish Military Convention, they had occupied 7 sq km of Saarland, still coming a bit short of actually advancing on the Siegfried Lane.
The full assault did not materialize and by the end of the month, French forces had retreated back to their own borders and their static defenses of the Maginot Line, a fortification that would be overcome by the blitzkrieg attack in May of 1940 when Germany invades France.
What if the French had launched a full assault? What if those forces, instead of holding for a few days before retreating back to the relative safety of the Maginot Line had instead advanced and struck the Germans at the Siegfried Line?
We do not have to look far to find out the possible outcome. German generals after the end of the war stated that they would not have been able to stop a full French assault with their forces. Most of the German aircraft, one of the greatest fears of the French Army at that point, were already engaged in Poland. The force that had been amassed against Germany would have been able to push through the defenses and bring the entire war to a swift halt within a few weeks time if they had moved swiftly and decisively.
German General Westphal who served in a variety of capacities under Rommel, Kesselring, and Von Rundstedt throughout the war and later served as a witness during the Nuremberg Trails stated that if the French Army had conducted a full attack against German lines, they would have been defeated in “a week or two”. What took place in September of 1939 should be a warning for military planners everywhere. Never prepare for the next war utilizing the strategy and tactics of the prior one.
How many lives might have been saved if the Allied commanders had pushed an attack against Germany while their attention was focused on Poland? Including civilians killed as well as those killed in the Holocaust, the world saw 75-85 million people killed over the course of World War II. How many lives could have been spared by decisive actions?
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