17 Chapters
Medium 9780253015822

7 A General Out of Step: North Africa, 1940–41

Anthony Clayton Indiana University Press ePub

Regarding much of Weygand’s life, admirers pay their respects, sometimes perhaps too generously, detractors pour out their criticisms, often unjustly or harshly, and the small details of his daily life and work are not fully covered—for example, the impression Weygand made on individuals who were later to matter or on groups of soldiers whose impressions were apparently too insignificant to record. Above all, this is true in the period of Weygand’s command in North Africa, where his presence, covert actions, and personal example were very real, but difficult to quantify and easy to belittle. He was to create an ethos: “We are not here just to defend North Africa, but to prepare to clear the enemy out of France.” He always referred to the Germans as “les boches” and their activities as “les bocheries.” His February 1941 secret instructions to regiments and garrisons concluded with exhortations to make every effort for their love of their country and their “longing for revenge,” in particular to remember their duties, train hard, and keep fit. Improved morale and self-confidence had in fact already begun.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253015822

5 Commander in Chief, May–June 1940

Anthony Clayton Indiana University Press ePub

It was still just possible that if France had entered the Second World War with the national resolve of 1914 the outcome of events might have been very different. If the French Army, even if not armored but at least motorized, had immediately sallied forth from the Maginot fortresses in effective support for Poland, the Nazi regime and the German Army would have faced grave problems, with serious fighting on two fronts and areas of Germany occupied by the French. The 1938 static defensive strategy, however, precluded such action, and in the severe 1939–40 winter two events took place that were to make French defeat inevitable. In September 1939 there had been a measure of motivation in the war even among reluctant recalled reservists and despite the political disinterest or outright opposition of the extreme Left. The long, very cold 1939–40 winter, though, sapped the morale of recalled reservists, who saw little purpose in their uninspiring daily routines; undermined by continuing antiwar and left-wing propaganda, morale slumped. Daladier’s banning of the French Communist Party in September 1939 had further enraged the Left but was an inevitable consequence of the August 1939 German-Russian agreement. At the same time the Germans had made a careful study of the lessons of the Polish campaign, developing aircraft communication with armored units and improved command and control of tank subunits and individual machines to precision.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253356888

8. The Second World War, 1939–45

Anthony Clayton Indiana University Press ePub

WARFARE FROM 1939 TO 1945 WAS dominated by the use and development of late-1930s military technology, particularly with regard to armor and aircraft. Paradoxically, however, the war would also see dramatic use of forests in the Soviet Union’s battles with the German Army, and in the war’s last months would see the biggest forest battle in recorded history.

The main events of the Second World War were preceded by a conflict only indirectly related to that between Nazi Germany and Britain and France. This so-called “Winter War,” which began with the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in November 1939 and lasted until March 1940, was to provide one of the most striking chapters in the history of forest fighting. Finland, a small country, could field an army of only nine under-strength divisions at the outset; these were soon to receive reinforcements from recalled reservists and a territorial civil guard. But the army possessed no tanks of any value, no antiaircraft guns, inadequate and obsolete artillery, and very few antitank weapons. The Finnish infantry, however, did possess a good 7.62-mm rifle and an excellent submachine gun, the kp 31 Suomi. The Soviet invaders totaled twenty-one divisions, each much larger than those of the Finns, all well equipped with tanks and artillery and able to call up massive air support. As the campaign progressed, Soviet reinforcements heightened this imbalance in numbers. Yet the Finnish Army was well trained, well clothed, and highly motivated, whereas the 1939 Red Army was overconfident, poorly led and trained, and lacked basic winter clothing as well as any real enthusiasm in some units, despite their massive numbers. The Finnish forces, under the command of Marshal Carl Gustav Mannerheim, were deployed first to defend their pre-prepared line of fortifications and forests and later on the Karelian Isthmus; their second task, aided by their skillful use of winter warfare, namely, ski-equipped fast-moving groups, was to inflict severe punishment on the Red Army in the central and northern sectors of the long border frontier.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253356888

2. Warfare before Firearms

Anthony Clayton Indiana University Press ePub

THE FIRST DECADE OF THE FIRST millennium AD saw a violent forest battle that was to have great significance for Western Europe. In this battle, in a forest near Osnabrück in western Germany, an army of the Roman Empire planning to make the river Elbe, further east, an imperial boundary suffered a catastrophic defeat.1

At this time, AD 9, the Roman garrison in western Germany consisted of five legions, each just under four thousand well-trained men supported by some ten thousand local auxiliaries, supply personnel, laborers, and camp followers of every kind. Each legion was composed of infantry cohorts of eighty men, and some also had a small number of horsemen. Each legion infantry man was armed with a short sword for stabbing, a dagger, and a javelin-throwing spear. For protection, he carried a large curved shield made of layers of wood covered in felt, with armor covering his body from the neck to just above the knees, and a helmet. This equipment, cumbersome and heavy, was designed for close-quarter fighting in open country; it was to prove a serious disadvantage in a forest.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253356888

9. Post-1945 and Conclusion

Anthony Clayton Indiana University Press ePub

SINCE THE END OF THE SECOND World War little combat in woods and forests has taken place in Europe and none in North America. Such combat was, however, often the subject of theory and exercise by cold war military commanders. Actual combat on a relatively small scale took place first in Greece from 1945 to 1948, in which communist partisans of the National People’s Liberation Army made use of woods in the mountain areas, and, forty-five years later, in the conflict following the collapse of Yugoslavia. In Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo ethnic guerrilla units or bands used forests as bases. In the long Northern Ireland campaign British Special Forces would track and hunt down Irish nationalist groups in the border woods. On a larger scale, in an area on the extreme edge of Europe, forest fighting followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chechen insurgency. In Vietnam the U.S. Army engaged in some forest fighting similar to that in earlier European combat.

During the long cold war, confrontation between the land and air forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact forces on the inner German border between West and East Germany, led to much theoretical writing and study. Massive military forces would be stationed on each side of the border. The Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces, composed essentially of shock armored and mechanized infantry formations, were planning for fast-moving strategic breakthroughs in which forest areas were to be bypassed in a dash for the Rhine and the English Channel. Both sides saw forests as having subsidiary use in such a campaign. NATO planning for a Soviet attack appreciated that certain woods and forests, while providing concealment and thick cover, would also channel the Soviets’ advance along particular routes, slowing momentum which would perhaps lead to congestion and thus enable a hammer-and-anvil defense plan. The NATO plan also provided for parties to remain behind in woods after a Soviet Army advance, observing the movements of Soviet second-echelon formations and reporting to NATO headquarters by means of short-burst signal systems. Soviet planning, particularly in the last two decades of the cold war, was more ambitious, reflecting Soviet thinking on maneuver warfare, itself much influenced by Marxist concepts of the essential unity of front and rear. Special Forces units and subunits were to land behind NATO lines and, after assembling, move out from woods and forests to strike at NATO lines of communication, headquarters, ordinance parks, airfields and airstrips, and radar installations, thereby paralyzing NATO forward units. Helicopter developments in the 1970s and 1980s offered new opportunities for battlefield mobility; helicopters could provide not only for the safe bypassing of forests but also for rapid surprise lifts and troop insertions, thereby using forests and woods to a unit’s advantage in either attack or defense.1 Fortunately all these plans remained on paper.

See All Chapters

See All Chapters