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The Great European War was a major military conflict after the Yellowstone Eruption, involving the powers of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy against the United Kingdom, France, Poland, and several other European powers. The Great European War was one of the largest and most devastating conflicts on the continent since the Yellowstone Eruption, causing mass destruction across several regions, including France and the Lowlands.
The cause for the war is widely agreed to be the need for the Germans to relocate their people south, seeing worsening weather conditions and the great loss of crops occurring due to the Yellowstone Eruption. The Germans were facing a refugee crisis with the incoming population of Scandinavians arriving in Germany, pushing the already stricken food problem. Many agree that without such drastic needs, war perhaps might not have occurred in Europe for a few more years.
The background for the conflict can be seen beginning with the re-militarization of the Rhineland and the subsequent joining of the Saarland with Germany, followed by the anschluss of Austria and the uniting of the two countries under one government. This helped prove to Nazi Germany that the allies were not going to engage in a fight readily and gave them some leeway to try to push things in their favor and allowed them some breathing space.
On 1 September 1939 the nation of Germany would invade Poland, officially beginning the war. After a little more than a month Poland would fall to the invading Germans. In early 1940 the Germans would launch a similar invasion to the west, defeating the nations of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and finally France. At the decisive Battle of Dunikirk the hurried Germans defeated the British Expeditionary Force and Allied units, effectively ending British involvement on the ground. The rest of France would quickly fall to the Germans, forcing France to sign an armistice similar to the one signed by Germany during the first world war.
On 20 December 1940 the Second Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending the Great European War. Among the many terms, the former nation of France was disbanded, its territory divided among Germany and the other Axis powers. The war would effectively end British power in Europe, parallel to the British evacuation that begun a few years earlier.
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War was fought from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939 between the Republicans, who were loyal to the established Spanish Republic, and the Nationalists, a rebel group led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists prevailed, and Franco ruled Spain for the next several decades. The war began after a declaration of opposition, called a pronunciamiento, by a group of generals of the Spanish Republican Armed Forces under the leadership of José Sanjurjo against the elected government of the Second Spanish Republic, at the time under the leadership of President Manuel Azaña. The rebel coup was supported by a number of conservative groups, including the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right, monarchists such as the religious conservative Carlists, and the Fascist Falange.
Before the eruption both sides of the Great European War had refused to become involved in the Spanish Civil War. The Axis did however send small amounts of soldiers and aid to help the Spanish Nationalists under Franco.
In July 1936 German involvement began with Adolf Hitler quickly sending in powerful air and armored units to assist the Nationalists. The war provided combat experience with the latest technology for the German military. However, the intervention also posed the risk of escalating into a world war for which Hitler was not ready. He therefore limited his aid, and instead encouraged Benito Mussolini to send in large Italian units.
The Germans would however form the multitasking Condor Legion, a unit composed of volunteers from the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and from the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer), as well as assisting in moving the Spanish Army of Africa to mainland Spain in the war's early stages. German operations slowly expanded to include strike targets, most notably – and controversially – the bombing of Guernica, which on 26 April 1937 killed 200 to 300 civilians.
German involvement was further manifested through undertakings such as Operation Ursula, a U-boat undertaking, and contributions from the Kriegsmarine. The Legion spearheaded many Nationalist victories, particularly in aerial combat, while Spain further provided a proving ground for German tank tactics. The training German units provided to Nationalist forces would prove valuable, and by the War's end, perhaps fifty-six thousand Nationalist soldiers, encompassing infantry, artillery, aerial and naval forces, had been trained by German detachments.
After Francisco Franco's request and encouragement by Hitler, Benito Mussolini joined the war. While the conquest of Ethiopia had made Italy confident in its power, a Spanish ally would nonetheless help secure Italian control of the Mediterranean. The Royal Italian Navy (Regia Marina Italiana) played a substantial role in the Mediterranean blockade. Italy would also supply machine guns, artillery, aircraft, tankettes, as well as the Legionary Air Force (Aviazione Legionaria), and the Corps of Volunteer Troops (Corpo Truppe Volontarie, or CTV) to the Nationalist cause. The Italian CTV would at its peak would supply the Nationalists with 50,000 men. Italian warships took part in breaking the Republican navy's blockade of Nationalist-held Spanish Morocco and took part in naval bombardment of Republican-held Malaga, Valencia, and Barcelona.
Probably a total of 16,000 German citizens fought in the War, including approximately 300 killed, though no more than ten thousand participated at any one time. German aid to the Nationalists amounted to approximately £43,000,000 ($215,000,000) in 1939 prices, 15.5% of which was used for salaries and expenses and 21.9% for direct delivery of supplies to Spain, while 62.6% was expended on the Condor Legion. In total Germany provided the Nationalists with 600 planes and 200 tanks. In total Italy provided the Nationalists with 660 planes, 150 tanks, 800 artillery pieces, 10,000 machine-guns and 240,000 rifles.
The Axis aid would prove to be a precursor to many of the tactics and methods employed in the Great European War, such as the test bombing of Guernica, which aimed to see how effective the Blitz would be. Vastly lacking support from the international community, the Republicans would be defeated, leaving Franco and his nationalist government loyal to Germany and Italy in power.
With Gleichschaltung established, totalitarian political control over Germany, the German government turned their attention to increasing the nation's area through foreign policy and expansion. The reintroducing of military conscription was order by Hitler on March 16, 1935, ignoring the terms of the Versailles Treaty which had thus far limited the German Reichswehr to only 100,000 men. Although this move resulted in official protests being issued by the United Kingdom and France, the two allies were more serious on enforcing the economic provisions of the treaty than its military restrictions, as many British even believed the conditions set on Germany to be too harsh.
On June 18, 1935 Germany and the United Kingdom signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 18, 1935, a naval agreement between the two nations that regulated the size of the Kriegsmarine in relation to the Royal Navy. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement fixed a ratio whereby the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on July 12, 1935. The agreement would be renounced by Adolf Hitler on April 28, 1939.
On March 7, 1936 German soldiers were ordered into the demilitarized region of the Rhineland, although this too was bet with little opposition from France or the United Kingdom. German chancellor Adolf Hitler would meet in privacy with Arnold J. Toynbee, who was visiting Berlin to address the Nazi Law Society. The limited expansionist aim of building a greater German nation, and the desire for British understanding and cooperation was emphasized by Hitler to Toynbee, who became convinced of Hitler's sincerity, and endorsed Hitler's message in a confidential memorandum for the British prime minister and foreign secretary.
Following increasing violence and demands from Hitler that Austria agree to a union, Schuschnigg met with Hitler on 12 February at Berchtesgaden in an attempt to avoid the take-over of Austria. Hitler presented Schuschnigg with a set of demands which included appointing known Austrian Nazi sympathizers to positions of great power in the Austrian government. The key appointment was that of Seyss-Inquart who would take over as Minister of Public Security, with full and unlimited control of the police forces in Austria. In return Hitler would publicly reaffirm the treaty of 11 July 1936 and reaffirm his support for Austria's national sovereignty. Schuschnigg accepted Hitler's "deal", returned to Vienna and made the changes to his government.
Seyss-Inquart was a known Nazi who sought the union of all Germans in one state. He opposed the violent tactics of the Austrian Nazis, collaborated with Catholic groups, and wanted to preserve a measure of Austrian identity within the Third Reich. One week later, Hitler made a speech in which he stated, "The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders." This was clearly directed at Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Schuschnigg, in an effort to preserve Austria's independence, scheduled a plebiscite on the issue of unification for 13 March. To secure a large majority in the referendum, Schuschnigg set the minimum voting age at 24, as he believed younger voters were now supporters of the German Nazi ideology. This was a risk, and the next day it became apparent that Hitler would not simply stand by while Austria declared its independence by public vote. Hitler declared that the referendum would be subject to major fraud and that Germany would not accept it. In addition, the German ministry of propaganda issued press reports that riots had broken out in Austria and that large parts of the Austrian population were calling for German troops to restore order. Schuschnigg immediately responded publicly that reports of riots were false.
On the morning of 12 March the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht was ordered to cross the border into Austria. The troops were greeted by cheering German-Austrians with Nazi salutes, Nazi flags, and flowers. For the Wehrmacht, the invasion was the first big test of its machinery. Although the invading forces were badly organized and coordination among the units was poor, it mattered little because no fighting took place.
The first non-violent German conquest would be the nation of Austria to the south. 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 of the Sudetenland border regions of Czechoslovakia. Hitler knew that Czechoslovakia had a modern army backed by a huge armament industry, as well as military alliances with France and the USSR. Despite this, Hitler was prepared to risk war, even as other nations encouraged him to cease his violations of post World War I treaties. Convinced that France would not support Czechoslovakia, Hitler continued with his plan.
Hitler's first order was to seize the Sudetenland, based on the right of self-determination for a unification with Germany. This region formed about 1/3 of Bohemia in terms of territory, population and economy, and was claimed to be vital for Czechoslovakia's existence. With Austria in German hands, this part of Czechoslovakia, equipped with a defense system that was larger than the Maginot line, was nearly surrounded by Germany.
Germany would begin lengthy negotiations with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and with French leaders, who attempted to appease Hitler by signing the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, allowing German troops to occupy the Sudetenland, for the sake of "peace in our time". Czechoslovakia had already mobilized over one million men and was prepared to fight for independence, but 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, with the Zaolzie area being annexed by Poland. On March 14 Slovakia declared her independence under Jozef Tiso, which was recognized by France, Britain and other important powers. The following day, Emil Hácha accepted a German occupation of the remaining parts of the Czech lands. From the Prague Castle, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed by Hitler.
An oral ultimatum was presented to Juozas Urbšys, Foreign Minister of Lithuania, by Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany, on March 20, 1939. The Germans demanded that Lithuania give up the Klaipėda Region (also known as the Memel Territory), which had been detached from Germany after World War I, or the Wehrmacht would invade Lithuania. On March 23, 1939 a German-Lithuanian treaty concluded returning the Memel territory which had been separated from Germany in 1920 and annexed by Lithuania.
With Europe now preparing for war, the German government exerted pressure on weaker governments to place their economies at the disposal of the German war machine. One such case was the German-Romanian economic agreement of March 23, 1939.
By 1937, Germany began to increase its demands for the Polish held city of Danzig, while proposing that a roadway be built in order to connect East Prussia with Germany proper, running through the Polish Corridor. Poland rejected this proposal, fearing that after accepting these demands, it would become increasingly subject to the will of Germany and eventually lose its independence as the Czechs had. Furthermore, Germany's collaboration with anti-Polish Ukrainian nationalists from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which was seen as an effort to isolate and weaken Poland, weakened Hitler's credibility from the Polish point of view.
The British had become aware of the situation between Germany and Poland. On 31 March 1939 the Anglo-Polish military alliance was formed by Britain and France, ensuring that Polish independence and territorial integrity would be defended with their support if it were to be threatened by Germany. On the other hand, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, still hoped to strike a deal with Hitler regarding Danzig and possibly the Polish Corridor, and Hitler hoped for the same. Chamberlain and his supporters believed war could be avoided and hoped Germany would agree to leave the rest of Poland alone. German hegemony over Central Europe was also at stake. In private Hitler revealed in May that Danzig was not the real issue to him, but pursuit of Lebensraum, living space, for Germany.
With tensions mounting, Germany turned to aggressive diplomacy as well. On 28 April 1939, it unilaterally withdrew from both the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1934 and the London Naval Agreement of 1935. Talks over Danzig and the Corridor broke down and months passed without diplomatic interaction between Germany and Poland. During this interim, the Germans learned that France and Britain had failed to secure an alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany, and that the Soviet Union was interested in an alliance with Germany against Poland.
In May 1939, in a statement to his generals while they were in the midst of planning the invasion of Poland, Hitler made it clear that the invasion would not come without resistance as it had in Czechoslovakia. With the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August between Germany and the Holy Russian Empire, Germany neutralized the possibility of Russian opposition to a campaign against Poland and war became imminent.
Invasion of Poland
Germany had a substantial numeric advantage over Poland and had developed a significant military prior to the outbreak of the conflict. The Heer (army) had some 2,400 tanks organized into six panzer divisions, utilizing a new operational doctrine. It held that these divisions should act in coordination with other elements of the military, punching holes in the enemy line and isolating selected units, which would be encircled and destroyed. This would be followed up by less-mobile mechanized infantry and foot soldiers. The Luftwaffe (air force) provided both tactical and strategic air power, particularly dive bombers that disrupted lines of supply and communications. Together, the new methods were nicknamed "Blitzkrieg" (lightning war), and had been tested to some degree on the battlefield of Spain.
Aircraft played a major role in the campaign. Bombers also attacked cities, causing huge losses among the civilian population. The Luftwaffe forces consisted of 1180 fighters, 290 Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers, 1100 conventional bombers (mainly Heinkel He 111s and Dornier Do 17s), and an assortment of 550 transport and 350 reconnaissance aircraft, would carry out these operations, launching significant strikes against the Polish. In total, Germany had close to 4000 aircraft, most of them modern.
A plan for invasion was devised by General Franz Halder, chief of the general staff, and directed by General Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander in chief of the upcoming campaign. Their plan called for the start of hostilities before a declaration of war, and pursued a doctrine of mass encirclement and destruction of enemy forces. Logistic support was to be provided by the six panzer divisions in the area, as well as a small number of mobilized infantry, including the Schützen regiments, forerunners of the panzergrenadiers, rapidly moving troops to concentrate against localized portions of the enemy front.
Poland's terrain was well suited for mobile operations, with flat plains containing frontiers totaling almost 5,600 km (3,500 mi). The weather also cooperated, allowing for easy mobilization into Poland.
The main German attack began over Poland's western border, led by Army Group South commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt. German forces attacked from German Silesia and from the Moravian and Slovak border to the south. General Johannes Blaskowitz's 8th Army was to drive eastward against Łódź, while General Wilhelm List's 14th Army was to push on toward Kraków and to turn the Poles' Carpathian flank. Concurrently General Walter von Reichenau's 10th Army, in the centre with Army Group South's armor, was to deliver the decisive blow with a northeastward thrust into the heart of Poland.
A secondary route of German attack began from northern Prussia, consisting of Army Group North under General Fedor von Bock, comprised of General Georg von Küchler's 3rd Army, which was to strike southward from East Prussia, and General Günther von Kluge's 4th Army, which was to attack eastward across the base of the Polish Corridor.
A tertiary attack led by Army Group South's allied Slovak units from Slovakia would be launched from the south. The German armed forces also planned for the German minority to assist by engaging in diversion and sabotage operations through Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz units prepared before the war.
The Polish political determination to deploy forces directly at the German-Polish border, based on the Polish-British Common Defense Pact, shaped the country's defensive plan. Poland's most valuable natural resources, industry, and population were located along the western border in Eastern Upper Silesia, making it an important target by Germany.
Polish policy centered on the protection of disputed regions, since many Polish leaders feared that if Poland were to retreat from the regions disputed by Germany, Britain and France would sign a separate peace treaty with Germany similar to the Munich Agreement of 1938. The fact that none of Poland's allies had specifically guaranteed Polish borders or territorial integrity certainly did not help in easing Polish concerns.
For these reasons the Polish decided against fortifying the bulk of their armed forces behind natural borders such as the Vistula and San rivers, advised by France and many Polish generals as a better choice, choosing to fortify the German border. In case the Polish army was pushed back from the border the armed forces would then choose to retreat, although slowly behind prepared positions, giving the nation time to complete its mobilization in preparation of a counteroffensive, aided by Poland's allies.
Polish forces were stretched thinly along the Polish-German border and lacked compact defense lines and good positions along disadvantageous terrain. This strategy also left supply lines poorly protected. One-third of Poland's forces were massed in or near the Polish Corridor, making them vulnerable to a double envelopment from East Prussia and the west. Another third were concentrated in the north-central part of the country, between the major cities of Łódź and Warsaw. The forward positioning of Polish forces vastly increased the difficulty of carrying out strategic maneuvers, compounded by inadequate mobility, as Polish units often lacked the ability to retreat from their defensive positions as they were being overrun by more mobile German mechanized formations.
All three German assaults were to converge on Warsaw, where the main Polish army was to be encircled and destroyed west of the Vistula. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, and officially began the Great European War.
The first regular act of war took place on 1 September 1939, at 04:40, when the Luftwaffe attacked the Polish town of Wieluń, destroying 75% of the city and killing close to 1200 people, most of them civilians. Five minutes later, the old German pre-dreadnought battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish military transit depot at Westerplatte in the Free City of Danzig on the Baltic Sea. Without a formal declaration of war yet issued, at 08:00, German troops attacked near the Polish town of Mokra. Later that day, the Germans attacked on Poland's western, southern and northern borders, while German aircraft began raids on Polish cities. The main axis of attack led eastwards from Germany proper through the western Polish border. Supporting attacks came from East Prussia in the north, and a co-operative German-Slovak tertiary attack by units from German-allied Slovakia in the south. All three assaults converged on the Polish capital of Warsaw as planned.
The Allied governments of France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on 3 September, however, they failed to provide any meaningful support. The German-French border saw only a few minor skirmishes, and the majority of German forces remained engaged in Poland. Despite some Polish successes in minor border battles, German technical, operational and numerical superiority forced the Polish armies to retreat from the borders towards Warsaw and Lwów. The Luftwaffe gained air superiority early in the campaign, and by destroying communications, the Luftwaffe increased the pace of the advance which overran Polish airstrips and early warning sites, causing logistical problems for the Polish. Many Polish Air Force units began to run low on supplies, lessening their combat strength and virtually removing all air opposition.
By 3 September Günther von Kluge's forces in the north had reached the Vistula river, about ten km from the German border at that time, Georg von Küchler's forces had begun approaching the Narew River, and Walther von Reichenau's armor was already beyond the Warta river. By 8 September German armor had reached the outskirts of Warsaw.
By the first week of the war the regions of Pomerelia (the Polish Corridor), Greater Poland, and Polish Upper Silesia had been abandoned by the Polish military, proving the plan for the border defense to be a complete failure. On 10 September, the Polish commander-in-chief—Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły—ordered a general retreat to the southeast, towards the so-called Romanian Bridgehead.
The Germans continued their advance, tightening their encirclement of the Polish forces west of the Vistula, and also penetrating deeply into eastern Poland. The city of Warsaw, now under heavy aerial bombardment since the first hours of the war, was attacked on 9 September and was put under siege on 13 September. Around that time, advanced German forces also reached the city of Lwów, a major metropolis in eastern Poland.
The largest battle during this campaign, the Battle of Bzura, took place near the Bzura river west of Warsaw and lasted from 9 September to 19 September. Polish armies Poznań and Pomorze, retreating from the border area of the Polish Corridor, attacked the flank of the advancing German 8th Army, but the counterattack failed after initial success. After the defeat, Poland lost its ability to take the initiative and counterattack on a large scale. German air power was instrumental during the battle, with the Luftwaffe breaking what remained of the Polish offensive. The Luftwaffe quickly destroyed the bridges across the Bzura River, leaving the Polish forces trapped out in the open, and were attacked by wave after wave of Stukas, dropping 50 kg (110 lb) "light bombs" which caused huge numbers of casualties.
The Polish anti-aircraft batteries in the area ran out of ammunition and retreated to the forests, but were then forced back into the open by the Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17s dropping 100 kg (220 lb) incendiaries. The Luftwaffe left the army with the task of mopping up survivors. The Stukageschwaders alone dropped 388 t (428 short tons) of bombs during this battle.
The Polish government of President Ignacy Mościcki and the high command of Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły left Warsaw in the first days of the campaign and headed southeast, reaching Lublin on 6 September. From there, it moved on 9 September to Kremenez, and on 13 September to Zaleshiki on the Romanian border. Rydz-Śmigły ordered the Polish forces to retreat in the same direction, behind the Vistula and San rivers, beginning the preparations for the long defense of the Romanian Bridgehead area.
Following the German invasion of Poland and preceding the Battle of France, Germany began a campaign across western Europe. Although the great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, neither side had yet committed to launching a significant attack, and there was relatively little fighting on the ground. This was also the period in which The United Kingdom and France did not supply significant aid to Poland, despite their pledged alliance.
While most of the German Army was fighting against Poland, a much smaller German force manned the Siegfried Line, the German fortified defensive line along the French border. At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, French troops stood facing them, whilst the British Expeditionary Force and other elements of the French Army created a defensive line along the Belgian border. There were only some local, minor skirmishes. The British Royal Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, while Western Europe was in a strange calm for seven months.
Britain and France both began buying large quantities of weapons and other war supplies from the manufacturers in the United States, as well as supplementing their own production to aid the war effort. The non-belligerent United States, contributed to the Western Allies by discounted sales of military equipment and supplies. German efforts to interdict the Allies' trans-Atlantic trade at sea ignited the Battle of the Atlantic.
On 10 May 1940 Germany would launch a massive invasion of Western Europe, attacking several allied powers in the region. The Western Allies, consisting primarily of the French, Belgian and British land forces soon collapsed under the onslaught of the so-called "blitzkrieg" strategy. With the fighting ended, the Germans began to consider ways of resolving the question of how to deal with Britain. If the British refused to agree to a peace treaty, one option was to invade. However, the German Navy (Kriegsmarine), had suffered serious losses in Scandinavia, and in order to even consider an amphibious landing, Germany's Air Force (the Luftwaffe) had to first gain air superiority or air supremacy.
After Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the government of Luxembourg was put into a delicate situation. Due to the country's policy of neutrality since the 1867 Treaty of London, the government adopted a careful non-belligerent stance towards its neighbors, despite the population's sympathy toward Britain and France.
Luxembourg would begin construction of the Schuster Line, a series of defenses between Germany and Luxembourg, consisting of massive concrete roadblocks with steel doors. The official aim of these road blocks was to slow down the progress of any invading army and give time for the guarantors of Luxembourg's neutrality to take counteractions against the invaders. However, compared to the massive power of the German forces, it only had symbolic character and helped to calm down the population. Except for its small Luxembourgish Volunteer Corps, Luxembourg did not possess an army, due to the treaty's restrictions.
After several false alarms in the spring of 1940, the probability of a military conflict between Germany and France grew. Germany stopped the export of coke for the Luxembourgish steel industry.
On 10 May 1940 at 03:15 the steel doors of the Schuster Line were ordered closed after it had been reported that German troops were on the move on the east side of the border rivers Our, Sauer and Mosel. The Royal Family was evacuated from its residence in Colmar-Berg to the Grand Ducal palace in Luxembourg City.
The German invasion began with the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Panzer Divisions crossing into Luxembourg at 04:35. They did not encounter any significant resistance save for some bridges destroyed and some land mines, since the majority of the Luxembourgish Volunteer Corps stayed in their barracks. Luxembourgish police resisted the German troops, however, to little avail, and the capital city was occupied before noon. Total Luxembourgish casualties amounted to 75 police and soldiers captured, six police wounded, and one soldier wounded. At 08:00, elements of the French 3rd Light Cavalry Division (3 DLC) of General Petiet, supported by the 1st Spahi Brigade of Colonel Jouffault and the 2nd company of the 5th Armoured Battalion (5 BCC), crossed the southern border to conduct a probe of German forces before later retreating behind the Maginot Line.
On the evening of 10 May 1940, most of the country, with the exception of the south, was occupied by German forces. More than 90,000 civilians evacuated from the canton of Esch-sur-Alzette as a consequence of the advance. 47,000 fled to France, 45,000 fled into the central and northern part of Luxembourg.
Grand Duchess Charlotte and the government of Premier Pierre Dupong fled to France, Portugal and the United Kingdom, before finally settling in Canada for the duration of the war. Charlotte, exiled in London, became an important symbol of national unity. Her eldest son and heir, Jean, volunteered for the British Army in 1942. The only official representative left behind was Albert Wehrer, head of a governmental commission, as well as the 41 deputies.
By 10 May 1940 Germany had managed to occupy Luxembourg virtually unopposed, as well prepared to invade the other Lowland nations of the Netherlands and Belgium. That night Army Group B was ordered into Netherlands and Belgium, and the next morning Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) from the 7th Flieger and 22. Luftlande Infanteriedivision under Kurt Student executed surprise landings at The Hague, on the road to Rotterdam and against the Belgian fort at Eben-Emael in order to facilitate Army Group B's advance.
On 10 May 1940 the German invasion of the Netherlands began, as German aircraft engaged airfields below. The night before German planes had first violated Dutch airspace, with one wing, the Kampfgeschwader 4 (KG 4),disappearing to the west, giving the Dutch the illusion that the operation was directed at England, but above the North Sea it then proceeded to turn to the east again to stage a surprise attack on the Dutch airfields, together with the other wings.
Led by Oberst Martin Fiebig, KG 4 hit the naval airfield at De Kooy, destroying 35 aircraft, most of them trainers. Fiebig himself was shot down and spent five days as a Dutch prisoner of war. KG 4 also hit Amsterdam-Schiphol, where the Dutch lost a third of their medium bombers, and The Hague airfields where I./KG 4 destroyed half of the 21 defending fighters to assist Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30) and Kampfgeschwader 54 (KG 54) in attacks upon ports and communications. KG 4 lost 11 Heinkel He 111 bombers in total on 10 May and three Junkers Ju 88s; KG 30 and 54 another nine bombers. Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26) and Zerstörergeschwader 26 (ZG 26) shot down 25 Dutch aircraft in aerial combat for a loss of nine fighters, with Albert Kesselring's Luftflotte 2 in total claiming 41. The Dutch were left with just 70 aircraft by the end of the day, which were spread out over Dutch territory. The few Dutch aircraft remaining continued to engage the Luftwaffe where possible, claiming 13 victories over German fighter aircraft by 14 May.
Immediately after the bombardments, between 04:30 and 05:00 local time, paratroopers were landed near the airfields. Dutch anti-aircraft batteries shot down numerous Ju 52 transport planes of the Luftwaffe's Transportgruppen. German Ju 52 losses in the entire battle amounted to about 250, representing 50% of the fleet's strength.
The French responded by ordering the 1st Army Group north, committing their best forces to aid the Dutch and Belgian. This haste move heavily diminished the French's initial fighting power due to the disorganization the rapid mobilization caused, as well as depleting the unit's fuel stocks. The French were supported by the French 7th Army, who upon entering the battle past the Dutch border encountered the Dutch army already in full retreat, pushing the allies back to defend at Brussels.
The German forces advanced on the French city of Sedan, overlooking the Meuse valley and strengthened by heavy French defenses, manned by the 147th Fortress Infantry Regiment, while the inland positions were held by the 55th Infantry Division. With the Germans approaching the 71st Infantry Division was inserted to the east of Sedan on the morning of 13 May, allowing the 55th Infantry to narrow its front by one-third and deepen its position to over 10 km (6.2 mi).
Later that day the German XIX Korps began the assault on Sedan, forcing their way across at three separate crossings, executed by the 1., 2. and 10. Panzerdivisions, and reinforced by the elite Großdeutschland infantry regiment. Since the Germans lacked superior artillery to the French defenders, the Germans surprised the French by using concentrated waves of aircraft to break through the French lines, carpet bombing and dive bombing in rapid succession.
In what would become one of the heaviest bombardments ever attempted in history at that point, the Luftwaffe committed two Sturzkampfgeschwader (Dive Bomber Wings) to the assault, flying 300 sorties against French positions. A total of 3,940 sorties were flown by nine Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Wings) throughout the battle, breaking the French line below.
Despite managing to repulse the crossing attempts of the 2. and 10. Panzerdivisions at some of the lesser affected defensive points, the French morale was badly shattered by the massive display of aerial bombing, and the 55th Infantry Division and their supporting artillery batteries were routed. By the end of the day the Germans had achieved a decisive victory, penetrating eight km into the French line.
Similar attacks followed all along the French line, causing massive confusion and panic among the French, Later that night the the 295th regiment of the 55th Infantry Division, holding the last prepared defensive line at the Bulson ridge, located ten km behind the river, was panicked by the false rumor that German tanks were already passed behind their position. The 295th regiment fled, causing a massive gap in the French defenses for the Germans to exploit, before a single German tank had even landed.
A few minor French counterattacks followed while the Germans consolidated their forces at the bridgeheads of the Meuse, but failed to make a dent against the German forces. Commander of the 1st Army Group, General Gaston-Henri Billotte, ordered the bridges across the Meuse be destroyed by air attack, realizing the great defeat they had suffered at the hands of the Germans. Disastrously for the Allies, that night every Allied light bomber was ordered to attack the three bridges over the river, but failed to hit any of them, while at the same time suffering incredibly high casualties.
Following the decisive German victory at the Battle of Sedan, the Germans were in a position to continue advancing west. Commander of the German XIX Armeekorps, Heinz Guderian, made clear his intentions to enlarge the bridgehead by at least 20 km, but was denied by his superior, Ewald von Kleist, who ordered him on behalf of Hitler to limit his moves to a maximum of eight km before consolidation. After the Battle of Sedan this was confirmed by von Rundstedt. Despite this, Guderian continued the advance, convincing Ewald von Kleist to agree to "reconnaissance in force", by threatening to resign and behind the scenes interventions. This vague terminology allowed Guderian to move forward, effectively ignoring Ewald von Kleist's order to halt.
Guderian sent the 10th Panzerdivision and Großdeutschland infantry regiment south to execute a feint attack over the Stonne plateau, as originally included in the von Manstein Plan. These secondary attacks were planned to be carried out to the southeast, in the rear of the Maginot Line, to confuse the French command, but had been removed by Halder. Despite this Guderian launched that attack, meeting the commander of the French 2nd Army, General Charles Huntziger, who intended to carry out a counterattack at the same spot with the armoured 3e Division Cuirassée (DCR) to eliminate the bridgehead.
The two forces collided, with both parties aggressively trying to gain ground around the village of Stonne. Huntzinger considered this at least a defensive success and limited his efforts to protecting his flank. Holding Stonne and taking Bulson would have enabled the French to hold onto the high ground overlooking Sedan. They could disrupt the Sedan bridgehead, even if they could not take it. After multiple waves of assault, the village of Stonne was finally captured by the Germans on 17 May.
The two armored divisions under Guderian; the 1. and 2. Panzer divisions, were turned sharply to the west, rapidly advancing toward the English Channel. After heavy fighting Guderian's motorized infantry had managed to disperse the newly created French 6th Army, who were attempting to reinforce the French line, as well as undercutting the southern flank of the French 9th Army, causing the 9th Army to collapse and surrender. With its flanks now unsupported, the 102nd Fortress Division was surrounded and destroyed on 15 May, near the Monthermé bridgehead by the 6. and 8. Panzer divisions, who acted without air support.
After the defeat at Stonne, the French 2nd Army had virtually been eliminated, while the 9th Army had given themselves up without proper time to fortify their lines, leaving the French at a large disadvantage, and allowing Erwin Rommel to breach its defenses within twenty-four hours of the new line's conception. Rommel advanced his 7th Panzer Division day and night, allowing them to advance 30 km in under twenty four hours. Because of this however, Rommel's lines of communication with his superior, General Hermann Hoth, and his headquarters were cut. Rommel chose to disobey orders and not wait for the French to establish a new line of defense,continuing to advance north-west to Avesnes-sur-Helpe, just ahead of the 1. and 2. Panzer divisions.
The unprepared French 5th Motorised Infantry Division had set up its overnight bivouac in Rommel's path, leaving its vehicles neatly lined up along the roadsides. The French vehicles were quickly destroyed by Rommel's forces. Rommel's forces were assisted by the 5th Panzer Division, who helped to assault the exhausted French forces. The remaining elements of 1st Reserve Armored Division were also engaged while resting from its recent engagements in Belgium, destroying the unit. Almost all of the French armor in the region now laid destroyed, and thousands of French soldiers were taken prisoner by Rommel, taking minimal casualties.
Guderian ordered his XIX Korps, consisting of the 1., 2. and 10. Panzer divisions to head for the channel, continuing until fuel was exhausted, to aid with the rapid advance. Hitler began to grow nervous over the German army's quick advance, and ordered the armed forces to slow their assault. Through deception and different interpretations of orders from Hitler and von Kleist, the commanders on the ground were able to ignore Hitler's attempts to stop the northern advance to the sea.
The Panzerkorps now slowed their advance considerably and put themselves in a very vulnerable position. They were stretched out, exhausted, low on fuel, and many tanks had broken down. There was now a dangerous gap between them and the infantry. A determined attack by a fresh and large enough mechanized force might have cut the Panzers off and wiped them out.
Despite the German's vulnerable position, the French High Command was reeling with a sense of defeatism, shocked by the sudden offensive into French territory. On the morning of 15 May, French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud telephoned the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, believing that the battle had already been lost. The next day Churchill flew to Paris and was immediately met with the seriousness of the situation. Around him the French government had already begun the preparation for the evacuation of the capital, burning its archives and moving people from the city. Churchill and General Gamelin met to discuss the future of the war, realizing that the situation was increasingly desperate.
Despite having numerically superior armored force, the French failed to use it properly, or to deliver an attack on the vulnerable German bulge, with many French units being kept in reserve in the north. With the 1st DCR now completely wiped out, and the 3rd DCR idle after failing to take its opportunity to destroy the German bridgeheads at Sedan, the only remaining armored division still in reserve, the 2nd DCR, was ordered to attack on 16 May west of Saint-Quentin, Aisne.
Scattered across a vast front, the French formation was overrun by the 8. Panzer division, and was effectively destroyed as a formidable fighting unit. Colonel Charles de Gaulle, in command of France's hastily formed 4th DCR, attempted to launch an attack from the south at Montcornet where Guderian had his Korps headquarters and the 1. Panzer division had its rear service areas. During the Battle of Montcornet Germans hastily improvised a defence while Guderian rushed up the 10. Panzer division to threaten De Gaulle's flank. This flank pressure and attacks by the Luftwaffe's VIII Fliegerkorps broke up the attack.
Another effort was launched by De Gaulle on 19 May, after receiving re-inforcements, but was repulsed with the loss of 80 of 155 vehicles. von Richthofen's Fliegerkorps VIII had done most of the work. By targeting French units moving into position to attack the vulnerable German flanks, it was able to stop most counterattacks at the start. With the help of Richthofen's air units, de Gaulle's unit had been defeated. De Gaulle's attacks of 17 and 19 May were the only counterattacks launched against the German forces advancing toward the Channel, and did little to curb the overall situation.
Battle of Dunkirk
By 24 May the Germans had trapped the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French First Army in a corridor to the sea, about 60 mi (97 km) deep and 15–25 mi (24–40 km) wide. Most of the British were still around Lille, over 40 mi (64 km) from Dunkirk, and the French further south, preventing reinforcements from arriving. Two massive German armies flanked them, comprised of General Fedor von Bock's Army Group B was to the east, and General Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group A to the west.
On 28 May command of the German forces in the battle was granted to General Von Kuechler, who launched an all out attack on the retreating British. The retreat was largely covered by the French, who held the line while the British attempted to evacuate. As the British hastily fell back the Germans pushed on, faster than the British could evacuate. As the British held the coast the order was called in for naval ships to meet them, but with the evacuation and protection of the British Isles under way any nearby ships were severally delayed from responding.
A heavy firefight ensued, as German aircraft bombed the few light vessels at Dunkirk. A few British soldiers would manage to escape, utilizing small fishing boats, but with no time to prepare a proper retreat, the Germans were able to pick off the fleeing boats. With further aid heavily delayed, the British were finally forced to surrender. In what would become one of the greatest defeats in British history, the entire surviving British and Allied force at Dunkirk was taken prisoner by the Germans.
Surrender and Armistice
Heavily demoralized and physically unable to continue hostilities on the mainland, the British had no choice but to consider peace with the Germans. Similarly discouraged and believing that his ministers no longer supported him, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned on 16 June. He was succeeded by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who delivered a radio address to the French people announcing his intention to ask for an armistice with Germany. When Hitler received word from the French government that they wished to negotiate an armistice, he selected the Compiègne Forest as the site for the negotiations.
Compiègne had been the site of the 1918 Armistice, which had ended the First World War with a humiliating defeat for Germany, and Hitler viewed the choice of location as a supreme moment of revenge for Germany over France. The armistice was signed on 22 June 1940 in the very same railway carriage in which the 1918 Armistice was signed, with Hitler sitting in the same chair in which Marshal Ferdinand Foch had sat when he faced the defeated German representatives. After listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler, in a calculated gesture of disdain to the French delegates, left the carriage, leaving the negotiations to the Chief of Staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Wilhelm Keitel. The armistice and the cease-fire went into effect at 01:35 on 25 June.
After months of fierce fighting in France and the Lowlands, the British Expeditionary Force had been captured, the French surrendered, and Paris in the hands of the Germans. Unwilling to continue the war further, the British had no choice but to accept the German offer to begin discussing peace. Delegates from the Allied nations met in occupied France to draft a treaty to end the war, meeting in the Palace of Versailles much like delegates of the first world war decades earlier.
On 20 December 1940 the Second Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending the Great European War.