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Dunkirchen 1940 - the German view of Dunkirk by Robert Kershaw

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1939 - 1942' started by Carronade, May 2, 2023.

  1. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

    Feb 17, 2010
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    Excellent book on the fighting for and around Dunkirk, including the fighting around the perimeter of the encircled Allied armies. The author credits the fighting qualities of the British and French - and the Belgians up until the capitulation of their king.

    He describes the intense battles for the ports of Boulogne (May 22-25) and Calais (May 24-26). I have long felt these were crucial to the outcome of the campaign. With all due credit to the defenders, these actions are mainly significant because the Germans insisted on attacking them, mistakenly IMO.

    By the evening of May 20, the leading division of Guderian's panzer corps, 2nd Panzer, had reached the English Channel coast. 1st Panzer was following, and 10th Panzer further back. They spent most of May 21 waiting for orders, and frankly a little rest and maintenance time was probably justified. Late that day it was decided to proceed to capture the Channel ports. There were three ports and three divisions, so the natural first thought was to assign 2nd Panzer to Boulogne, 1st to Calais, and 10th to Dunkirk.

    May 21 was the day of the Allied attack around Arras which, although repulsed, generated concern in the German command. Von Kliest, Guderian's immediate superior, directed that 10th Panzer, the easternmost division, be held in reserve; this was of course the unit tasked to attack Dunkirk.

    2nd and 1st Panzer were enroute to their objectives early on May 22 and were closing in on them by the end of the day, encountering French and British troops, most of the latter having landed only hours before. Late in the day, 10th Panzer was released from reserve, so Guderian directed it to proceed to Calais while 1st Panzer, already near Calais, moved on to Dunkirk. Thus the attack on Dunkirk did not get underway until late on May 23, and as Kershaw describes, it was largely bogged down by the time of the famous halt order on the 24th.

    I don't think it's an abuse of hindsight to say that Dunkirk should have been the key objective. Boulogne and Calais were irrelevant if the Germans controlled the ground between them and the encircled British and French armies. Guderian's entire strength ought to have been directed on Dunkirk, excepting only what was needed to screen Boulogne and Calais and prevent any interference. Ironically, the last few miles to Dunkirk, from the line of the Aa river and canal, were not good tank country, so many of the German tanks could have been so used while the advance on Dunkirk was conducted mainly by the panzer divisions' infantry, artillery, and pioneers.

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