A book with Fresh Content about the 1940 French Campaign
February 23, 2010
have been a number of good books written about the German attack on France in 1940, traditional historiography has been skewed
toward just the first three weeks of the campaign and emphasizing the German breakthrough at Sedan, the dash to the sea and
the Allied evacuation from Dunkirk. Most accounts mention the role played by the French Maginot Line in shaping the German
breakthrough plan, but rarely discuss what the Maginot Line troops were doing during the actual campaign. Indeed, the follow-up
German invasion of metropolitan France (Fall Rot or Plan Red) and the final three weeks of the campaign are usually absent
entirely or skimmed over quickly in standard accounts. However, Marc Romanych's Maginot Line 1940 not only fills both these
gaps admirably but it succeeds in presenting fresh content about the German efforts to reduce the Maginot Line. Whereas most
accounts suggest that little happened around the Maginot Line while the Germans were overrunning the rest of France, Romanych
details seven different German operations to reduce and capture various sections of the line. This book is well-researched
and put together with an eye for detail that makes it particularly useful for specialist readers.
Maginot Line 1940
begins with a brief overview of the German invasion plan (Fall Gelb or Plan Yellow), the brief French offensive into the Saar
in 1939 and a campaign chronology, followed by the usual sections on opposing commanders, forces and plans. These opening
sections are decent, but a bit brief, except for the 3-page order of battle. One good point that the author makes in these
sections is that despite the fact that the Maginot Line was created to guard the French border with Germany and thereby allow
the French Army to reduce the number of troops committed to static defensive roles, they violated this intent by deploying
almost half their divisions to support the Maginot Line. Clearly some of these divisions could have been bettered employed
in the general reserve.
The campaign narrative proper begins with the opening German moves through the Ardennes and
the breakthrough at Sedan, but the author does not belabor material that has been well-trodden in standard accounts. It is
with the German capture of Fort La Ferte, the western end of the Maginot Line, that the author finds his groove. He discusses
how the Germans massed over 250 guns against the fort and spent two days reducing its outer defenses until it was finally
captured. This was the first Maginot Line fort captured and the author notes that the French high command was stunned that
it had fallen so quickly. From this point on, the author discusses the capture of the Maubeuge fortifications and then moves
from west to east down the Maginot Line, detailing the German operations that occurred in the final two weeks of the war to
reduce the line. As it turns out, there was quite a lot of fighting around the Maginot Line but the Germans only captured
10 of 58 major defensive works before the Armistice. There is a great deal of detail in his narrative and the tactical dynamic
tends to be similar for most of these operations: French interval troops withdraw leaving the Maginot Line forts isolated,
German troops move in, pound the forts with point-blank fire from 88-mm flack guns then assault with artillery and engineers.
Rinse and repeat. This tactical dynamic and the author's recounting of it does get a bit repetitive, particularly since there
are no first-person accounts included. On the other hand, much of this information has not appeared in English before so think
of it as a helpful dose of medicine. One of the few disappointments I had about the author's research was that the analysis
in the Aftermath section seemed incomplete, particularly in regard to casualties. Given that Paris had already fallen by the
time that many of these operations were occurring and an armistice was imminent, the question is not asked whether these later
attacks on the Maginot Line really contributed to the defeat of France and were the casualties suffered worth what was gained.
Some of the German attacks just before the armistice seemed a bit gratuitous and it begs the question who was ordering these
Maginot Line 1940 has a total of five 2-D maps (overview of the campaign, 10 May - 25 June 1940; overrun
of the Ardennes defenses, 12-16 May 1940; Battle for the Mauberge fortifications, 12-27 May 1940; envelopment of the Metz
region, 10-21 June 1940; attacks in Alsace, 15-21 June 1940) and three 3-D BEV maps (Battle for Fort La Ferte, 16-19 May 1940;
infantry attack on Fortress Fermont, 21 June 1940; Operation Tiger, 14-16 June 1940; assault across the Rhine near Kunheim,
15 June 1940) that do an admirable job of supporting the campaign narrative. Simply put, the maps are superb. The three battle
scenes by artist John Whitte (the assault on Fort La Ferte, 18 May 1940; the end of Fort Kerfent, 21 June 1940; the fight
for casemate Oberroedern-Nord, 20 June 1940) are also very nice but all are from the German perspective. The B/W photos are
also very good and most have not appeared elsewhere in English sources. One of the few shortcomings in this volume is the
bibliography, which is rather anemic with only five works cited, including one other Osprey volume. Although the author clearly
used German archival records at NARA, he did not list any or provide the specific URLs of some of the Maginot Line-related
Internet websites that he mentions in the text. Overall, this volume is not only an excellent addition to Osprey's Campaign
series but a serious piece of historical research in its own right.
Excellent Summary of the Battles on the French Frontier, 1940
March 3, 2010
By Dave Schrank
This highly focused and highly informative book far surpassed my expectations
for an Osprey Campaign. It had material that even a full size book didn't have concerning the history of the building of the
fortifications, the layout and manning of those buildings and the eventual penetration of the Maginot network by the Germans.
The coverage, in typical Osprey format, was concise, informative and logical.
In the introductory chapters, the brief history of the Maginot fortifications is discussed. As the "Phoney War" with Great
Britain progresses, the authors discuss the French manning the Line as well as the mobilization of its reserves. At the same
time, the Germans spent a lot of time studying the best way to conquer their old adversary.
Opposing Commanders lists
the four top officers of each side. It was adequate but this was the only chapter in the book that I wished for more information.
It would have been nice to have greater coverage of the French Commanders but space was a limiting factor. Opposing Armies was
excellent, especially the French side when describing the disposition of troops in the different fortifications as well as
surrounding areas along the line. A spreadsheet was also presented of each Order of Battle, helping to understand the combatants.
A Chronology summarized the key events of the campaign.
The authors devoted 61 pages to the campaign and the coverage
was very detailed and from my perspective one of the best in the entire series. There were 58 forts along the line but not
all fort fighting was covered but all the key forts that had an impact of the German penetration were covered. There were
some forts that were still held by the French at the time of the surrender; the Germans decided it wasn't necessary to capture
all forts to win the war. The maps and illustrations highlight the key battles.
In aftermath the authors give their
appraisal of the war. While the Maginot Line was a help to the French, it did have several weaknesses. First the forts didn't
have enough firepower; the Germans were able to stand back and shell the forts with impunity for days with their big guns
which had greater range. Another weakness was the lack of antiaircraft fire which allowed the Luftwaffe to attack at will
from the air. It was also shown that the poor disposition of the French troops along the line contributed to their loss. The
French and their Allies suffered approx 90,000 dead, 200,000 wounded and 1.9 million men were POWs. These figures were missing
from the text and a minor omission by the authors.
There were six excellent 2-D maps and three 3-D maps. The 2D maps
were extremely well drawn and were very helpful in following the narrative. The maps were of: the Overview of the campaign,
10 May - 25 June 1940; the Overrun of the Ardennes defenses, 12-16 May 1940; Battle for the Mauberge fortifications, 12-27
May 1940; Envelopment of the Metz region, 10-21 June 1940; Operation Tiger, 14-16 June 1940; Attacks in Alsace, 15-21 June
1940. The three 3-D maps are the Battle for Fort La Ferte, 16-19 May 1940; Infantry attack on Fortress Fermont, 21 June 1940;
Assault across the Rhine near Kunheim, 15 June 1940. The maps were well populated with key towns and rivers and showed troop
dispositions, axes of advance and clear points of penetration on the front line. The
three battle scenes include the assault on Fort La Ferte, 18 May 1940; the end of Fort Kerfent, 21 June 1940; the fight for
casemate Oberroedern-Nord, 20 June 1940. The maps and artwork were awesome!!
The many photos were also interesting;
many of which were of the different casemates. You didn't have to be told, you could see by the photos that the German Hi-Velocity
88 Flak Gun played an important part in penetrating the Maginot line. It was more effective in breaching the walls than some
of the bigger guns.
This was an interesting book that I learned a lot from. Its highly recommended
to all who want to learn about the battles of the French frontier or have an interest in great maps and photos of the campaign.