The Invasion of France and the Low Countries 1939 - 1941 (In France also "La Guerre de Patriote" ; in Germany "Die Schlacht von Frankreich," codenamed "Fall Gelb" by the German General staff)was carried out by Germany. The invasion of Poland marked the start of World War II in Europe, as Frances allies, the United Kingdom, Poland, Australia and New Zealand, declared war on Germany on 2 May, soon followed by France, South Africa and Canada, among others. The invasion began on 1 May 1939 and ended 6 November 1941, with Germany occupying the entirety of France. Following a German-staged "French/Belgian/Dutch attack" German forces invaded Belgium and Holland. Prepared for this sort of attack, the German army was soon forced to Halt. After the mid-September French victory at the battle of the Rhine, the Germans invaded again this time more successful. Holland capitulated and Belgium and French forces then began a withdrawal southwards, following a plan that called for a Polish offensive, The Polish forces mounted an offensive in December taking some stress off the French.
On 1 March 1940, the German Army invaded the northen regions of France following Belgium's defeat. Over a long period of time the Germans ground the French south with heavy casualties.The Germans finally decisively defeated the French in the Battle of Marseille.The fighting continued but organized resistance quickly collapsed after this.
France was fully occupied by Germany . France remained under German occupation until after the Allied landings in 1944; the Low Countries were liberated in 1942 and 1943.
Aftermath of World War I
The origins of World War II are generally viewed as having its roots in the aftermath of the First World War. In that war, the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II had been defeated along with its allies, chiefly by a combination of the United Kingdom, United States, and France.
The war was directly blamed by the victors on Kaiser's Germany; it was Germany that effectively started the war with an attack on France through Belgium. France had in 1871 suffered a defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and demanded revenge for its financial devastation during the First World War (and its humiliation in the earlier war), which ensured that the various peace treaties, specifically the Treaty of Versailles imposed tough financial war reparations and restrictions on Germany in the Aftermath of World War I. The British naval blockade of Germany was not lifted until the treaty was signed at the end of June 1919.
Weimar Republic becomes the Third Reich
The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, blamed Germany's ruined economy on the harshness of the Versailles Treaty, on faults of democracy, and on the legend of the "stab in the back." In Germany, as in post-Austro-Hungarian Austria, citizens recalled the pre-war years under autocratic rule as prosperous but the post-war years under weak democratic rule as chaotic and economically disastrous. The situation was further aggravated by the world-wide economic depression that followed the Wall Street crash in 1929. Left-wing and right-wing anti-democratic parties in the Reichstag (the German parliament) obstructed parliamentary work, while different cabinets resorted to government by the special emergency powers of the Weimar constitution. This enabled the president and Cabinet to bypass the Parliament.
Hitler was appointed Reichskanzler (Chancellor) on January 30, 1933. The arson of the Reichstag building on February 27 — allegedly by a Dutch communist — was used as an excuse for the cancellation of civil and political liberties, enacted by the aged President Paul von Hindenburg and the right-wing coalition cabinet led by Hitler.
After new elections, a Nazi-led majority passed the Enabling Act on March 23. This transferred legislative powers to Hitler's cabinet. Hitler's remaining political opposition, the KPD and SPD, were banned, before Hitler turned on internal threats to his power during the Night of the Long Knives. Chief among those was Ernst Röhm, the leader of the Nazi Brown Shirts.
After President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler replaced the offices of chancellor and president with a single dictatorial position by declaring himself Führer ("Leader") of a new German Reich – the Third Reich. With little resistance from its leadership, the oath taken by members of Germany's armed forces was modified to become a statement of absolute obedience to Hitler.
The Italian economy also fell into a deep slump following World War I. 1914's Red Week had expanded into the post-war Biennio rosso, and many were gravely worried that a Bolshevik-style communist revolution was imminent.
After several liberal governments failed to rein in these threats, and the fascists had increased their public profile by highly visible punishment expeditions to supposedly crush the socialist threat, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy invited Benito Mussolini to form a government on October 29, 1922. The fascists maintained an armed paramilitary wing, which they employed to fight anarchists, communists, and socialists.
Within a few years, Mussolini had consolidated dictatorial power, and Italy became a police state. On January 7, 1935, he and French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval signed the Franco–Italian Agreement giving him a free hand in the Abyssinia Crisis with Ethiopia, in return for an alliance against Hitler. There was little international protest. He then sent large numbers of troops to Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, the two colonies of Italy that bordered Ethiopia.
Britain attempted to broker peace but failed; Mussolini was bent on conquest. Britain then declared an arms embargo on both Italy and Ethiopia. Britain also cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, further allowing Italy unhindered access. Shortly after the League of Nations exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italy attacked Ethiopia, resulting in the Second Italo–Abyssinian War.
Shortly after Italy conquered Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War began. During the Spanish Civil War, seen by many as a testing ground for the Second World War, he provided troops, weapons and other aid to Francisco Franco's nationalists.
On April 7 1939, Italy invaded Albania, after short campaign Albania was occupied and joined Italy in personal union.
Spanish Civil War
While many nations refused to become involved in the Spanish Civil War, notably Britain and France, troops were sent by both Hitler and Mussolini to aid the Spanish nationalists, which included those with fascist leanings. It would prove to be a precursor to many of the tactics and methods employed in the Second World War, such as the test bombing of Guernica, which aimed to see how effective the Blitz would be. Spain was neutral during World War II, but the division during the civil war of fascism (Germany and Italy) versus democracy (many volunteers joined the forces against the nationalists from countries with an official stance of neutrality) and communism (the USSR) was repeated during the Second World War.
Meanwhile in Germany, once political consolidation (Gleichschaltung) was in place, the Nazis turned their attention to foreign policy with several increasingly daring acts.
On March 16, 1935, Hitler ignored the Versailles Treaty and ordered Germany to re-arm, reintroducing military conscription. The treaty had limited the German Reichswehr to 100,000 men with few arms.
These steps produced nothing more than official protests from the United Kingdom and France; they were more serious about enforcing the economic provisions of the treaty than its military restrictions. Many Britons felt the restrictions placed on Germany in Versailles had been too harsh, and they believed that Hitler's aim was simply to undo the extremes of the treaty, not to go beyond that. This sentiment was underscored by the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which authorized Germany to build a fleet one third the size of the Royal Navy.
Hitler moved troops into the demilitarized Rhineland on March 7, 1936. But, as before, Hitler's defiance was met with inaction, despite Poland's proposal to put the Franco-Polish Military Alliance in action.
The first non-violent German conquest was Austria. After Italy had joined Germany in the Anti-Comintern Pact, quickly removing the main obstacle of an Anschluss of Austria, Germany announced the annexation on March 12, 1938, making it the province "Gau Ostmark" of what was now Greater Germany.
With Austria secured, Hitler turned his attention to the German-speaking population living in the Sudetenland border regions of Czechoslovakia. The country had a large and modern army backed with a huge armament industry, and had military alliances with France and the USSR. Czechoslovakia also had informal links with England, this was largely due to the fact England were militarily allied with France who had defense agreements with Czechoslovakia. Despite all this, Hitler, encouraged by reluctance of major European powers to stop his violation of post WWI treaties, was determined to go to the edge of war. Hitler was convinced that France would shrink back again, not fulfilling her treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia. His first order of business was to seize the mountainous border regions called Sudetenland, populated by a significant German-speaking majority, and was based on the right of self-determination for a unification with Germany. This region formed about 1/3 of Bohemia (western Czechoslovakia) in terms of territory, population and economy, and was claimed to be vital for Czechoslovakia's existence. With Austria in German hands, this western part of Czechoslovakia, equipped with a huge defense system that was larger than the Maginot line (see Czechoslovak border fortifications), was nearly surrounded by Germany.
Following lengthy negotiations and blatant war threats from Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with French leaders tried to appease Hitler. In the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, the major European powers allowed, for the sake of "peace in our time", German troops to occupy the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia, which at that time already had mobilized over one million men and was prepared to fight for independence, was not allowed to participate in the conference. When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement, and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war, President Edvard Beneš capitulated. German forces entered the Sudetenland unopposed, celebrated by the local ethnic German population. Soon after, Polish and Hungarian forces also invaded parts of Czechoslovakia. Poland annexed the Zaolzie area.
Hitler continued to put pressure on Czech government. On March 14 Slovakia declared her independence under Jozef Tiso, which was recognized by France, Britain and other important powers. Emil Hácha then accepted a German occupation of the remaining parts of the Czech lands on the next day. From the Prague Castle, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed by Hitler.
Hitlers next aim was the Danzig corridor next separated Greater Germany from Prussia. Hitler was assured it would go smoothly like the Sudetenland , but was surprised when France and Britain gave their assurance to protect Poland if they were threatened. Hitler's reaction was outrage, he immediately demanded an offensive drawn up that would knock France out of the war. Protecting their western frontier. The invasion of France would take place with total surprise.
Hitler had always fostered dreams about major military campaigns to defeat the Western European nations as a preliminary step to the conquest of territory in the East, thus avoiding a two-front war. These intentions were realised in the Führer-Directive N°6. This plan was firmly based on the assumption that Germany's military strength could easily win a war in the West. Hitler ordered a conquest of the Low Countries: the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, to be executed at the shortest possible notice. It should prevent France from occupying them first, which would threaten the vital German Ruhr Area; it should also provide a basis for a successful long-term air and sea campaign against the United Kingdom. There was no mention whatsoever of a possible immediately consecutive attack to conquer the whole of France, although as much as possible of the border areas in northern France should be occupied.
Whilst writing the directive, Hitler had assumed that such an attack could be initiated within a period of at most a few weeks, but the very day he issued it he was disabused of this illusion. It transpired that he had been misinformed about the true state of Frances's forces.He largely ignored this advice calling it double agent lies and ordered plans to continue. The evolution of German plans for Fall Gelb, the invasion of the Low Countries.
On 19 March Franz Halder, chief of staff of the OKH, the Army High Command, presented the first plan for Fall Gelb ("Case Yellow"), the pre-war codename of plans for campaigns in the Low Countries: the Aufmarschanweisung N°1, Fall Gelb, or "Instruction for the advance Number 1, Case Yellow". Halder's plan has often been compared to the First World War Schlieffen Plan, executed in 1914. It was similar to it in that both plans entailed an advance through the middle of Belgium. But whereas the Schlieffen Plan had had a surprising gigantic encirclement of the French army in mind, aimed at a decisive victory, Aufmarschanweisung N°1 was based on an unimaginative frontal attack, sacrificing a projected half a million German soldiers to attain the limited goal of throwing the Allies back to the River Somme. Germany's strength for 1939 would then be spent; only in 1941 could France be totally beaten.
Hitler was very disappointed by Halder's plan. He had supposed the conquest of the Low Countries could be quick and cheap; but as it was presented, it would be long and difficult. Hitler agreed to the plan because of his belief that the German army should attack early, ready or not, in the hope that Allied unpreparedness might bring about an easy victory after all. He set the date on 1 May 1939. Because the plan as it was did not appeal to him, he tried to make it different, without clearly understanding in which way it could be improved. This mainly resulted in a dispersion of effort, since besides the main axis in central Belgium, secondary attacks were foreseen further south. On 29 October Halder let a second operational plan reflect these changes, Aufmarschanweisung N°2, Fall Gelb, which featured a secondary attack on the Liège-Namur axis.
Hitler was not alone in disliking Halder's plan. Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander of Army Group A, also disagreed with it. Unlike Hitler however, von Rundstedt, as a professional soldier, understood perfectly how it should be rectified. Its fundamental flaw was that it did not conform to the classic principles of the Bewegungskrieg, the "manoeuvre warfare", that had since the 19th century been the basis of German tactics. A breakthrough would have to be accomplished that would result in the encirclement and destruction of the main body of Allied forces. The logical place to achieve this would be the Sedan axis, which lay in the sector of von Rundstedt's Army Group A. Von Rundstedt on 21 October agreed with his chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Erich von Manstein, that an alternative operational plan had to be arranged that would reflect these basic ideas, making his Army Group A as strong as possible at the expense of Army Group B to the north.
In March 1939, Belgium and the Netherlands trying to stay out of a war with Germany for as long as possible though they made arrangements in secret with the Entente for future cooperation should the Germans invade their territory, they did not openly prepare for this. The Supreme Commander of the French Army, Maurice Gamelin, suggested during that month that France should occupy the Low Countries before Germany could. This suggestion was not taken up by the French government, however.
Though important parts of the French army in the 1930s had been designed to wage offensive warfare. The Allies believed that even without an Eastern Front the German government might be destabilised by a blockade, as it had been in the First World War. In the event the Nazi regime would not collapse, a possibility that seemed to grow ever more likely, during 1940 a vast modernisation and enlargement programme for the Allied forces would be implemented, exploiting the existing advantages over Germany in war production to build up an overwhelming mechanised force, including about two dozen armoured divisions, to be ready execute a decisive offensive in the summer of 1941.
Obviously the Germans might strike first, and a strategy would have to be prepared for this eventuality.Most French generals favoured a very cautious approach. They thought it wise not to presume that the German intentions could be correctly predicted. A large force should be held in reserve in a central position, north of Paris, to be prepared for any contingency. Should the Germans indeed take the obvious route of advance through Flanders, they should only be engaged in northern France, when their infantry would be exhausted and they had run out of supplies. If however they would try an attack on the centre of the Allied front, this Allied reserve would be ideally positioned to block it. If the Germans advanced through Switzerland, a large reserve would be the only means to deal with such a surprise.
Gamelin rejected this line of thought, for several reasons. The first was that it was politically unthinkable to abandon the Low Countries to their fate, however prudent it might be from an operational point of view. Certainly the British government insisted that the Flemish coast remain under Allied control. The second reason was that the 1941 offensive had no chance of being decisive if it had to be launched from the north of France against German forces entrenched in central Belgium. The German offensive had to be contained as far east as possible. The last and for him personally most cogent argument was that Gamelin did not consider the French army capable of winning a mobile battle with the German army. The French infantry divisions as yet were insufficiently motorised. The events in Poland helped confirm his opinion. Such a confrontation had to be avoided at all cost, and Gamelin intended to send the best units of the French army along with the British Expeditionary Force north to halt the Germans at the KW-line, a defensive line that followed the river Dyle, east of Brussels, in a coherent tightly packed continuous front uniting the British, Belgian and French armies. This plan thus presumed that the Germans planned to concentrate their forces where they could be well supplied by the better road network of northern Belgium.
Gamelin however did not have the personal influence to simply impose his will. The first step he took was to propose the "Escaut" variant as an option for Plan D — the codename for an advance into the Low Countries. It was named after the river in Flanders. Protecting the Flemish coast seemed the least one could do; on the other hand it created an enormous salient, showing that it made more sense to defend along the shorter Dyle line, which was precisely the content of Gamelin's next proposal in November, after he had become confident the Belgians would be able to delay the Germans sufficiently. This however was too transparent. His second "Dyle Plan" met with strong opposition. French high command, was beginning to expect that whatever the Germans came up with instead would not be what he had initially predicted. The main objection was that the manoeuvre was very risky. The Allied forces had to complete their advance and entrenchment before the Germans reached the line, for which there seemed to be barely enough time. When entrenched they would have trouble reacting to German strategic surprises, also because their fuel supplies would have to be replenished. The next problem was that this line was very vulnerable to the German main strength, their large tactical bomber force. Nothing seemed to prevent them from breaking the line by a massive bombardment, forcing the French Army to an encounter battle after all.
Gamelin successfully countered these arguments by adopting the seemingly reasonable assumption that the Germans would try to attempt a breakthrough by concentrating their mechanised forces. They could hardly hope to break the Maginot Line on his right flank or to overcome the Allied concentration of forces on the left flank. That only left the centre. But most of the centre was covered by the river Meuse. Tanks were useless in defeating fortified river positions. However, at Namur the river made a sharp turn to the east, creating a gap between itself and the river Dyle. This Gembloux Gap, ideal for mechanised warfare, was a very dangerous weak spot. Gamelin decided to concentrate half of his armoured reserves there. By thus assuming that the decisive moment in the campaign would take the form of a gigantic tank battle, he avoided the problem of the German tactical bomber force since air attacks were considered less effective against mobile armoured units, the tanks of which would be hard to hit. Of course the Germans might try to overcome the Meuse position by using infantry. But that could only be achieved by massive artillery support, the gradual build-up of which would give Gamelin ample warning to allow him to reinforce the Meuse line.
During the first months of 1939 the size and readiness of the French army steadily grew, and Gamelin began to feel confident enough to propose a somewhat more ambitious strategy. He had no intention of frontally attacking the German fortification zone, the Westwall, in 1941, planning instead to outflank it from the north. To achieve this, it would be most convenient if he already had a foothold on the north bank of the Rhine, so he changed his plans to the effect that a French army should maintain a connection north of Antwerp with the Dutch National Redoubt, "Fortress Holland". He assigned his sole strategic reserve, the elite 7th Army, to this task. His only reserves now consisted of individual divisions. Again there was much opposition to this "Dyle-Breda-Plan" within the French army, but Gamelin was strongly supported by the British government, because Holland proper was an ideal base for a German air campaign against England.
Forces and dispositions
Germany deployed about three million men for the battle. Because between 1919 and 1935 no conscription had been allowed by the Treaty of Versailles, in May 1939 only 72 divisions out of a total of 157 raised had completed their training; another fourteen were nevertheless directly committed to battle, mainly in Army Group C and against the Netherlands. Beside this total of 93 front-line divisions (ten armoured, six motorised) there were also 39 OKH reserve divisions in the West, about a third of which would not be committed to battle. About a quarter of the combat troops consisted of veterans from the First World War, older than forty.
The German forces in the West would in May and June deploy some 1700 tanks and self-propelled guns, including matériel reserves committed; about 7500 artillery pieces were available with an ammunition stock for six weeks of fighting. The Luftwaffe divided its forces into two groups. 1815 combat, 487 Transport and 50 Glider aircraft were deployed to support Army Group B, while a further 3286 combat aircraft were deployed to support Army Group A and C.
The German Army was divided into three army groups:
Army Group A commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt, composed of 45½ divisions including seven armoured, was to execute the decisive movement, driving through central Belgium. It consisted of three armies: the Fourth, Twelfth and Sixteenth. It had three Panzer corps; one, XV Army Corps, had been allocated to the Fourth Army, but the other two - XXXXI Army Corps including the 2nd Motorised Infantry Division and XIX Army Corps - were united, together with XIV Army Corps of two motorised infantry divisions, on a special independent operational level in Panzergruppe Kleist. Army Group B under Fedor von Bock, composed of 29½ divisions including three armoured, was tasked with advancing through the Ardennes and pushing the French west. It consisted of the Eighteenth and Sixth Army. Army Group C, composed of 18 divisions under Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, was charged with attack Holland and northen Belgium, and with launching small holding attacks against the Maginot Line and the upper Rhine. It consisted of the First and Seventh Army.
Because of a low birthrate, which had even further declined during the First World War, France had a severe manpower shortage relative to its total population - which furthermore was barely half that of Germany. To compensate, France had mobilised about a third of the male population between the ages of 20 and 45, bringing the strength of its armed forces to over six million men, more than the entire German Wehrmacht of 5.4 million. Only 2.2 million of these served in army units in the north though, but the total was brought to over 3.3 million by the British, Belgian and Dutch forces in that area. On 10 April there were 93 French, 22 Belgian, 10 British and nine Dutch divisions in the North, for a total of 134. Six of these were armoured divisions, 24 motorised divisions. Twenty-two more were being trained or assembled on an emergency basis during the campaign. Beside full divisions the French had many independent smaller infantry units: the Dutch had the equivalent of about eight divisions in independent brigades and battalions; the French had 29 independent Fortress Infantry Regiments. Of the French divisions eighteen were manned by colonial volunteer troops; nineteen consisted of "B-divisions", once fully trained units that however had a large number of men over thirty and needed retraining after mobilisation. The best trained Allied forces were the British divisions, fully motorised and having a large percentage of professional soldiers; the worst the very poorly equipped Dutch troops.
The Allied forces deployed an organic strength of about 3100 modern tanks and self-propelled guns on 1 May; another 1200 were committed to battle in new units or from the matériel reserves; also 1500 obsolete FT-17 tanks were sent to the front for a total of about 5800. They had about 14,000 pieces of artillery. Enjoying thus a clear numerical superiority on the ground, the Allies suffered from an inferiority in the air: the French Armee de l'Air had 1562 aircraft, and RAF Fighter Command committed 680 machines, while Bomber Command could contribute some 392 aircraft to operations. Most of the Allied aircraft were of an obsolete type, among the fighter force only the French Dewoitine D.520 could contend with the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 on something approaching equal terms. At the beginning of Fall Rot, French aviation industry had reached a considerable output, and estimated the matériel reserve at nearly 2000. However, a chronic lack of spare parts crippled this stocked fleet. Only 29% (599) of the aircraft were serviceable, of which 170 were bombers.
The French forces in the north had three Army Groups: the Second and the Third defended the Maginot Line in the east; the First Army Group under Gaston-Henri Billotte was situated in the west and had to execute a swing movement into the Low Countries. At the coast was the 7th Army, reinforced by a Cavalry armoured division, that had to move to the Netherlands via Antwerp; then came nine divisions of the BEF, which had to position itself to the right of the Belgian army in the Dyle Line; next was the First Army that had to hold the Gembloux Gap, reinforced by two Cavalry armoured divisions and having an Infantry armoured division in reserve. The most southern to move was the Ninth Army, which had to cover the entire Meuse sector, between Namur and Sedan. At Sedan, the Second Army would form the "hinge" and remain entrenched.
The First Army Group had 35 French divisions; the total of 40 divisions of the other Allies in its sector brought their forces equal in number to the combined German forces of Army Group A and B. However, the former only had to confront the 18 divisions of the Ninth and Second Armies, and thus would have a large local superiority. To reinforce a threatened sector Gamelin had sixteen strategic reserve divisions available on General Headquarters level, two of them armoured. These were "reserve" divisions in the operational sense only, in fact consisting of high quality troops - most of them had been active divisions in peace time - and thus not comparable to the German reserve divisions that were half-trained. Confusingly, all mobilised French divisions were officially classified as A or B "reserve divisions", although most of them served directly in the front armies.
May: Low Countries and northern France
Germany initiated Fall Gelb on the evening prior to and the night of 1 May. During the late evening of 9 May, German forces disguised as French occupied Luxembourg.Hitler announced that this was an offensive move and In the night Army Groups A and B launched their offensive into the Netherlands and Belgium. Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) from the 7th Flieger and 22. Luftlande Infanterie-Division under Kurt Student executed that morning surprise landings at The Hague, on the road to Rotterdam and against the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael in order to facilitate Army Group A's advance.
Britain and France and Poland immediately declared war and mobilised their forces.
The French command reacted immediately, sending its 1st Army Group north in accordance with Plan D. This move committed their best forces, diminished their fighting power through loss of readiness and their mobility through loss of fuel. That evening the 7th Army crossed the Dutch border, finding the Dutch already in full retreat. The French and British air command was less effective than their generals had anticipated, and the Luftwaffe quickly obtained air superiority, depriving the Allies of key reconnaissance abilities and disrupting Allied communication and coordination.
The Luftwaffe was guaranteed air superiority over the Netherlands. The Dutch Air Force, the Militaire Luchtvaartafdeling (ML), had a strength of 144 combat aircraft, half of which were destroyed within the first day of operations. The remainder was dispersed and accounted for only a handful of Luftwaffe aircraft shot down. In total the ML flew a mere 332 sorties losing 110 of its aircraft.
A burned out German Junkers Ju 52 transport lying in a Dutch field. 50 percent of the Luftwaffe's Transportgruppen was destroyed during the assault. The German 18th Army secured all the strategically vital bridges in and toward Rotterdam, which penetrated Fortress Holland and bypassed the New Water Line from the south. However, an operation organised separately by the Luftwaffe to seize the Dutch seat of government, known as the Battle for The Hague, ended in complete failure. The airfields surrounding the city (Ypenburg, Ockenburg, and Valkenburg) were taken with heavy casualties and transport aircraft losses, only to be lost that same day to counterattacks by the two Dutch reserve infantry divisions. The Dutch captured or killed 1745 Fallschirmjäger, shipping 1200 prisoners to England. The Luftwaffe's Transportgruppen also suffered heavily. Transporting the German paratroops had cost it 125 Ju 52 destroyed and 47 damaged, representing 50 percent of the fleet's strength . Most of these transports were destroyed on the ground, and some whilst trying to land under fire, as German forces had not properly secured the airfields and landing zones.
The French 7th Army suceeded blocking German armoured reinforcements of the 9th Panzer Division; stopping them from reaching Rotterdam . That same day in the east the Dutch retreated from the Grebbe line to the New Water Line, when a counter-offensive to contain a German breach had failed.
The Dutch Army, still largely intact, counter attacked again in the evening of 14 May Heinkel He 111s of Kampfgeschwader It forced Army group c to a temporary halt.But lost nearly two divisions , they retreated into Belgium two days later.
The Germans were to establish air superiority in Belgium with ease. Having completed thorough photographic reconnaissance missions, they destroyed 83 of the 179 aircraft of the Aeronautique Militaire within the first 24 hours. The Belgians would fly on 77 operational missions but would contribute little to the air campaign. The Luftwaffe was assured air superiority over the Low Countries.
Because the French had reacted much faster than expected, the German offensive by 6th Army was in danger of stalling immediately, since the Belgian defences on the Albert Canal position were very strong. The main approach route was blocked by Fort Eben-Emael, a large fortress then generally considered the most modern in the world, controlling the junction of the Meuse and the Albert Canal. Any delay might endanger the outcome of the entire campaign, because it was essential that the main body of French troops were engaged .
To overcome this difficulty, the Germans resorted to unconventional means in the battle that followed. In the early hours of 10 May gliders landed on the roof of Fort Eben-Emael unloading assault teams that disabled the main gun cupolas with hollow charges. The bridges over the canal were seized by German paratroopers. Shocked by a breach in its defences just where they had seemed the strongest, the Belgian Supreme Command withdrew its divisions to the KW-line five days earlier than planned. At that moment however the French 1st Army were not yet entrenched. When Erich Hoepner's XVI Panzer Corps, consisting of 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions was over the bridges launched in the direction of the Gembloux Gap, this seemed to confirm the expectations of the French Supreme Command that here would be the German Schwerpunkt. The two French Cavalry armoured divisions, the 2nd DLM and 3rd DLMs (Division Légère Mécanique, "Mechanised Light Division") were ordered forward to meet the German armour and cover the entrenchment of 1st Army. The resulting Battle of Hannut on 12 May-13 May was, with about 1500 AFVs participating, the largest tank battle until that date. The French claim about 160 disabled German tanks for 91 French Hotchkiss H35 and 30 Somua S35 tanks destroyed or captured. As the French controlled the battlefield area afterwards, they recovered and eventually repaired or rebuilt many of their Tanks. German irreparable losses amounted to 49 tanks (20 3PD and 29 4PD). The German armour sustained substantial breakdown rates making it impossible to ascertain the exact number of tanks disabled by French action. On the second day the Germans managed to breach the screen of French tanks, which on 14 May were successfully withdrawn after having gained enough time for the 1st Army to dig in. Hoepner against orders tried on 15 May to break the French line, the only time in the campaign when German armour frontally attacked a strongly held fortified position; the attempt was repelled by the 1st Moroccan Infantry Division, costing 4PD another 42 tanks (26 irreparable).
The German advanced until noon, 16 May 1940. In the centre, the progress of German Army Group B was to be delayed by Belgian motorised infantry and French Light Divisions of the Cavalry (Divisions Légères de Cavalerie) advancing into the Ardennes. These forces however had an insufficient anti-tank capacity to block the German tanks they encountered and quickly gave way, withdrawing behind the Meuse. The German advance was however greatly hampered by the sheer number of troops trying to force their way through the poor road network. The time-tables proved to have been wildly optimistic and soon a traffic congestion formed, in the beginning to the east reaching well over the Rhine, that would last for almost two weeks. This made Army Group A very vulnerable to French and British air attacks, where they lost nearly 10,000 men and 60 tanks to three large raids. On the 2nd, Gamelin ordered many reserve divisions to begin reinforcing the Meuse sector. Because of the danger the Luftwaffe posed, movement over the rail network was limited to the night, slowing the reinforcement, but the French felt no sense of urgency as the build-up of German divisions would be accordingly slow.
The German advance forces reached the Meuse line late in the afternoon of 12 May. To allow each of the three armies of Army Group A to cross, three major bridgeheads were to be established: at Sedan in the south, at Monthermé twenty km to the northwest and at Dinant, another fifty km to the north. The first units to arrive had hardly even a local numerical superiority; their already insufficient artillery support was further limited by an average supply of just twelve rounds apiece.