The Battle of Arras - Rommel's bloody nose

Discussion in '1940' started by Worldwarstoday, Jun 26, 2012.

  1. Worldwarstoday

    Worldwarstoday Junior Member

    Here is an article on the Battle of Arras in June 1940 - a little-known affair which was overshadowed by the evacuations at Dunkirk a few days later.

    Without the heroic exploits of the Royal Tank Regiment at Arras, the Germans would have captured Dunkirk sooner, capturing thousands of Allied troops who were evacuated to fight another day.

    The World Wars Today: The British tank battle hero who stopped Rommel in his tracks

    So it's not just the 'little ships' of Dunkirk we should remember, but also the brave men in the little tanks who gave their lives at Arras so their comrades could escape to fight another day.

  2. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    And it wasn't just the RTR at Arras :)
  3. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  4. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Nice little article - did you take the pictures?

    But in my opinion it certainly wasn't just about Arras or the 'little ships' - I'm still not even convinced (as some are) it was the reason for the halt order.

    As heroric as they were, if you look at the evacuation figures of how many men were evacuated via the little ships from the beaches they are very low in comparison to how many were taken off the mole from RN ships like Destroyers, Minesweepers and the ferries pressed into service. Many of the so called little ships were actually Whalers, Landing Craft and Lifeboats from larger ships anchored off shore that the ships companies tirelessly rowed back and forth.

    And don't get me started on the chaps that were ordered to 'Stand and Fight to the last round' and gave up their freedom or worse still their lives that others might have a chance of being evacuated.

    Op Dynamo was possible because of a whole host of reasons not just one or two and Arras falls pretty low down the order, just my own opinion mind :)
  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Sebag-Montefiore's book about the BEF in 1940 gives good coverage of both Arras and all the 'last stands' at Hazebrouck, Wormhoudt, and elsewhere. The whole French 1st Army staged a 'last stand' at Lille.
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  8. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    If any regular unit sacrificed themselves to preserve the Dunkirk perimeter then I think that it was 2nd Division at La Bassee but I'm inclined to agree with Michael Piercy's assessment that Brooke's handling of II Corps from 25th May onwards, with Montgomery's repositioning of 3rd Division to protect the northern flank was indeed the 'manoeuvre that saved the Field Force'.

    As TTH has mentioned, the French put up a fine defence at Lille and if that had been a BEF action then we'd have countless threads devoted to it.

    The Arras counter attack proved that the German supply lines and 2nd echelon units were vulnerable at that time but their high command was already aware of that and had shown that it was prepared to take the risk. By the end of May, it was no longer the case. I'm not convinced that it drastically influenced their conduct thereafter. It seems to have been a bit of an unco-ordinated shambles really.
  9. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Lets hear from the Germans: Maj-Gen. Julian Thompson – Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory (Pan)

    “...the Arras action was the only Allied counter-stroke singled out for special mention in the German propaganda film Sieg im West (Victory in the west)… They [the British] had advanced up to 10 miles at the furthest point and had captured more than 400 prisoners, more than any other action against the Germans since 10 May. They and the 3rd DLM had destroyed a large number of tanks and trucks. The 7th Panzer Division war diary speaks of ‘hundreds of enemy tanks and following infantry’. The situation map marked in Rommel’s own hand shows arrows suggesting a counter-attack by five enemy divisions. It certainly cost Rommel’s division more tanks than any operation so far… four times more than the number suffered during breakthrough into France. The remainder of the prisoners bagged by the 50th Division were from SS Totenkopf Panzer Division, of whom Gunderian was to write they ‘showed signs of panic’…

    Rommel’s angst reverberated up the German chain of command. General von Kluge… wrote that 21 May was ‘the first day on which the enemy had met with any real success’. He wanted to halt any further advance westward from Arras until the situation had been stabalised. In Kleist’s Panzer Group, the 6th and 8th Panzer Divisions were ordered to swing back… to take up defensive positions on the flank of the supposed five enemy divisions. At the Nuremberg Tribunal after the war Rundstedt said:

    “A critical moment in the drive came just as my forces had reached the Channel. It was caused by a British counter-stroke southwards from Arras on 21 may. For a short time it was feared that our armoured divisions would be cut off before the infantry divisions could come up to support them. None of the French counter-attacks carried any serious threat as this one did”…

    …the shock transmitted itself all the way to Hitler.

    It was obviously only a 'side-show' to everything else that went on!!!


  10. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Only 2 men now alive who fought that battle! That was a surprise.
  11. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Here's the relevant part of 7th Panzer War Diary. Shows that War Diaries also can be fiction items. ;)

    All the best


    Attached Files:

  12. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Here is the German situation map from 20 May. It shows two things:

    1) North of Arras an Allied tank force had in fact been identified (look at the red tank symbol drawn into the map on the road straight north)
    2) The quite dangerous situation that a breakthrough at Arras (with a more substantial force) could have led to.

    All the best


    Attached Files:

  13. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Here are the relevant maps from the WD 7th Panzer. They should be self-explanatory. Note the shock&awe label '5 Divisions' ;)

    All the best


    Attached Files:

  14. LondonNik

    LondonNik Senior Member

    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
  15. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    It seems to me that Karl-Heinz Frieser in Blitzkreig Legend has pretty much the right explanation.

    I concur.

    It has always struck me that many historical analyses on the Westfeldzug concluded that after the break-through from the Meuse sector, the battle was basically fought. In fact it turned out to be fought, but I always felt that there had been many points after May 15, where a promising powerful counter offensive of Anglo-French forces could have been organised. The efforts by particularly the BEF to arrange such, were however - to my opinion - wracked by the total numbness of the French command by then.

    The French forces deployed in the area, as well as the quite nearby GQG reserves, were quite formidable. The thin stretched German lines were overly exposed. That was also what bothered Franz Halder and as such good old Adolf.

    When one sees the effect of the British counter move at Arras, countering the 7th Panzerdivision and the SS mob alongside it, one wonders what a bit of good faith on the French side could have contributed. The French however had already given up. Save their excellent efforts to shield the BEF evacuation a bit later on, the virtual French capitulation occured in the days ahead of Arras, when prominent commanders like Corap and Billotte collapsed.

    In my opinion much more of the Belgian pocket forces could have been saved if Gamelin, at a much earlier stage, would have moved a corps into the NW of France. The very spot where the 7th Armée would have been if Gamelin wouldn't have fancied the daring 'Breda' strategy. That's why I feel that the theory that the entire battle for France had been lost when the Germans broke out of the Sedan region was fabricated after the end-result and not so much a genuine verdict based upon the options that particularly the French forces still had.
  16. LondonNik

    LondonNik Senior Member

    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
  17. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Nick, you are absolutely right. It's easy to play the general after the war. I realise that. The thing is, to me, that I strongly feel that leading French general officers collapsed early on, well ahead of a truly devastated battle field status.

    I know that a general like Giraud, who was destined to replace Corap on May 19, and the French commander in the northeast, general Georges, had already prophesized - preluded if you will - on a German push through the south in the general direction of the Atlantic. It was the basic idea behind the 7th Armée allocation in the Reims region to begin with. That was designated to counter and rebuff a German penetration of the 2nd / 9th Armée positions along the Meuse. Georges explicitely mentioned this scenario when he objected the progressive Gamelin (re)launch of the 'Breda' variant (to the Dyle-development) during the winter of 39/40.

    In that respect one cannot say that potential French awareness of the German push through to the Pas de Calais was hindsight all along. They had assessed the possibility but, much like Prélatats assessment in 1939 of the speed of an Ardennes offensive, it was dismissed by Gamelin. Or, rather, Gamelin promised to replace the 7th Armée reserve by an adequate formation that he would immediately form from the vast GQG reserve upon a German invasion. Gamelin however did not think in the pace of things as they actually occured. When the Sedan pocket was left by the Guderian avant garde, there was not a single French division ready to intervene.

    I strongly feel that the poor French awareness and alertness, which was seen as off the first bullet fired on May 10, 1940 (when Gamelin awaited further confirmations before he even prewarned the BEF), continued to remain in place until it was much too late. The presumption of a war of duration caused them to waste time and angles. They had quite an extended reserve, that included motorized and even mechanized units. Should Gamelin have lived up to the promise he made to Georges and Billotte to organize an instant potent reserve Corps from the GQG reserves to move into the Reims/Lille region once 7th Armée was moved to the north, things would have been different. And that is hindsight in itself, obviously. But it is a fair analysis, so I feel. Do you agree, Nick?
  18. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Interesting posts and some thoughtful summaries.

    The theme seems to be that German forces inflicted an emotional, psychological and intellectual defeat on the senior French command very early in the campaign.

    Was that not an aspect contemplated by the Guderian philosophy and therefore part of the plan?
  19. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Senior Member

    The whole point of shock tactics is to shock, that is what happened to the allies at Sedan and, to a lesser extent, to the Germans at Arras.
    A couple of batallions of tanks impervious to your standard AT weapons will have some effect, but the difference is that the Germans did recover pretty quickly after the initial shock as the allies proved unable to keep up enough pressure to keep them off balance.
    What helped the thinly spread Germans in the "panzer corridor" was that the allied tank forces, both the French DCR and the British tank Brigade, had no staying power by themselves so had to coordinate with other units for anything but local armoured raids of little operational impact, and coordination was the allied weakest spot. There was little the local comanders could do to compensate for doctrine and training unsuited to the fluid situation they found themselves in.
    There is a lot of evidence the Germans needed to stop anyway, euphoria and anphetamines will take short of sleep troops only so far, vehicles need maintenance, push too far and they collapse.
    In the 1940 campaign the Panzer divisions proved to be not as good at holding ground as at taking it but were good enough to win, the few tactical reverses they suffered were amplified out of all proportions by propaganda that had to find a bright side to a disaster.
  20. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

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