Slipped greatness: why the tanks did not save France?
Powerful armored troops could change the fate of France - General de Gaulle spoke about this more than once. The republic had a lot of tanks - with thick armor, powerful guns and brave, like a thousand devils, tank crews. But something went wrong.
Wild herds and lonely monsters
If the aviation industry in France in the 1930s did not work out, the republic’s tank industry was something to be proud of following the First World War. After all, the Renault FT – 17 is the first tank of the classic modern layout with one cannon turret of circular rotation made by the French. Moreover, they produced more than 3,000 of these machines, not counting Italian and American copies.
For those who could not be frightened by a horde of light tanks, the French still had super heavy FCM 2C. The length of the armored unit exceeded ten meters, and the weight in the armored version was 75 tons. For serial and adopted cars, these records are still not broken, than the French are sometimes proud of - in the mood and of absinthe.
If there is no cavil to the length of FCM 2C, it is indeed a record one, then questions arise with the masses.Up to 75 tons, the tank "got fat" only after installing additional armor. This was done at the end of 1939 as an experiment - they strengthened the protection of one car, rode a bit. They realized that now the tank, which had never been particularly mobile, was not moving at all. They spat and removed the additional armor back. There was another version of the FCM 2Cbis with a 155 mm howitzer in the cast turret. Its mass is not exactly known - it is estimated that about 74 tons. True, this option was also created in a single copy and turned out to be temporary - it was created in 1926, and in 1932 it was converted into the usual FCM 2C.
The serial FCM 2C weighed only 69 tons - this record was broken back in 1944, by the German “Royal Tiger”.
In general, with the tanks in France, everything was fine. It was a bit unclear how they should be applied.
Most of the generals agreed that there was no need to reinvent the wheel once again - tanks should support infantry. Moreover, they have such speed that they could not have escaped from the infantry with all their desire.
But apart from the infantry in the French army there was cavalry. For obvious reasons, in the course of a positional war on the Western Front, the cavalry did not have many opportunities to prove themselves.Here, the French could only envy the Russian barbarian, in whom whole cavalry armies walked to Warsaw and back. But just to envy is unproductive. And from the end of the twenties the French tried to harness both a horse and a quivering doe in one cart. In a sense, mechanize your cavalry units. It turned out somehow not very.
De Gaulle going out of step
Some French, looking at the state of their own army, as well as what was happening with the Germans, decided to knock off Kassandra a little (the messenger of misfortune in ancient Greek mythology - the daughter of the last ruler of Troy, who possessed the prophetic gift; predicted the fall of Troy. - Ed.) And tell fellow citizens, how things can turn out badly. Louder than the others, was a certain lieutenant colonel Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle.
"We cannot count on the fact that poorly equipped and poorly equipped troops, occupying hastily created defensive lines, will be able to repel the first blow."
In order to repel it, or even better - to incite the foe himself, de Gaulle proposed to create a small one — thousands for one hundred fighters — but a very professional army for which the word tank would suit well.
However, the marshals and other winners in the First World War who were sitting in high offices in the First World War vividly explained to alarmed fellow citizens that there was nothing to worry about. They have a wonderful Maginot line, in which they have already buried some dofig of national money. Here in this house in which case the whole of France will sit out until the German wolf gets bored knocking his head into the concrete.
Cavalrymen Marshal Peten gave the order ...
In the middle of the 30s, the French horsemen decided, nevertheless: horses and tanks did not fit very well. In this regard, it was decided to form two Division Légère Mécanique (DLM - light mechanized divisions).
Since the case was new, incomprehensible, no one began to hurry. The first division was created in 1935, and the second - in 1937th. Well, while the French were “not in a hurry”, the Germans seized Austria, Czechoslovakia, and finally, in September 1939, invaded Poland.
They listened more attentively to their tank theorists, and they had more tank divisions.
The French seriously attended to the creation of tank units after the start of the war. In February 1940, they formed another, the third in a row DLM, where they had to transfer part of the experienced officers from the first two divisions.There was also the fourth DLM, but it began to be formed in June 1940, when it was already a little late to drink Borjomi to save France.
Looking at the cavalry, their "real" tank units eventually wanted infantry. Of course, here, too, no one was in a hurry, as well as especially to listen to de Gaulle's cries. Only in December 1938, General Biyot (father of the heroic captain) decided to create two Division Cuirassée de Réserve (DCr - reserve tank divisions).
Captain Pierre Armand Gaston Biyot, son of General Gaston Henri Gustav Biot, mentioned above, became famous on May 16, 1940. His tank company, supported by infantry, was ordered to knock the Germans out of the village of Ston in the Ardennes. However, under the blows of enemy aircraft, the French forces melted away - only the Biyot tank and several infantry units reached the village. Deciding to execute the order even in such conditions, Biyot went to battle. The village was liberated, the crew of Biyota recorded thirteen German tanks and two guns at his own expense. For this fight, Biyot was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor and the Military Cross.
The boy said - the boy did ... but not immediately. On September 2, 1939, the French finally created the first ... no, not a division, but a brigade - and so inspired by this that the next day they declared war on Germany.Two divisions turned out to form only on January 16, 1940, the third - on March 20.
By the beginning of the offensive against France, the Germans had about two and a half thousand "panzer". All of them were concentrated in ten tank divisions, five of which (along with five more motorized ones) were part of the von Kleist tank group.
The French had more than three thousand cars, with 470 of them S35 and B1bis - with thick counter armor.
Colonel de Gaulle was appointed commander of the 4th tank division (4e Division cuirassée).
It is usually written that it was formed just on May 10, the day the German offensive began. But de Gaulle himself writes about May 15th. However, it did not matter much. Already on May 17, the subordinate units, even without having time to properly be one unit, went into battle. Separately, without air cover, with insufficient support of artillery and infantry.
In addition, "at the head of the tank crews were commanders who had never fired guns before, and the drivers had a total of no more than four hours of driving a tank." The only motorized infantry battalion was transported by buses. Artillery was collected from the pine forest, and many officers got acquainted with their soldiers "literally on the battlefield."And so on ...
“In addition, we did not have radio communications,” de Gaulle recalled, “and I had to command the division, giving orders to subordinate commanders through liaison-motorcyclists or personally going to the unit. To top it off, all parts experienced an extreme shortage of vehicles, supplies and repairs, which under normal conditions they should have. ”
The result - as they say - was a bit predictable. The French tankers fought bravely, but the heroism of Captain Biyot, lieutenants of Pompier and Gode (on May 17 who defeated the German column in the Mormalsky forest), as well as their comrades, could change little.
“What success on the site of this pathetic, weak, poorly equipped, hastily put together and fighting division alone could have made an armored formation in these May days!” If the government promptly directed the country's military system along the path of action, rather than inaction, if, as a result, our military leaders had an attack and maneuverable army, then our armed forces could count on success, and France would regain its greatness. ” .
But everything could turn out quite differently.