The Phoney War

The declaration of war by France and the United Kingdom was followed by a long period of waiting which culminated in May 1940 with a lightning attack and the victory of the German army

 

The Phoney War

On 3rd September 1939, following German aggression against Poland and the interplay of alliances, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. For months, the French and German armies faced each other without movement. Journalist Roland Dorgeles named this the Phoney War.

As in the First World War, the French army adopted a strategy of position, persuaded of its safety behind the Maginot Line, (fortifications built along the French frontiers).

The debacle

On 10th May, after months of inaction, the German army attacked, literally rolling over Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and France. Within a month, the French army was routed in the debacle. Civilians fled from the fighting in an exodus.

The French government left Paris. Paul Reynaud, the President of the Council of Ministers, called on Marshal Petain.  Events followed swiftly. On 17th June 1940, Marshal Petain called for a cease-fire.  On 18th June 1940, de Gaulle, broadcasting on the BBC from London, appealed for a movement of Resistance. An armistice was signed between the French and Germans at Rethondes on 22nd June 1940.

For four years France was occupied by the German army and was ruled in tandem by the Vichy government, a regime controlled by Hitler.

Operation Jubilee

From 1942 the Allies sought to open a front on the coast of the Channel. On 19th July 1942, a landing was attempted at Dieppe, (operation Jubilee). However this first amphibious Allied operation in France was a disaster. Canadian and British troops landed over a 20 kilometre front on an inhospitable coast, where the overlooking cliffs were riddled with German defences. Some 1,200 soldiers were killed and 3,000 others wounded or taken prisoner. Lessons for the future were learned from this failure.

Operation Fortitude

Henceforth the Germans knew that the Allies wanted to invade France. The Germans thought that the best place was in the North. The beaches of Pas-de-Calais were closely guarded.

Operation Fortitude , implemented in the UK was planned to convince the Germans that they were right in this idea. The Allies installed dummy trucks and tanks made of rubber along the East- English coast and in Scotland, to simulate phantom armies and so deceive enemy air-reconnaissance of Allied plans.

 

With the contribution of  Rémy Desquesnes
Historian