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Invasion of France Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 5/5/2014

With France secure along its famed Maginot Line, the German Army traversed the seemingly "impassable" Ardennes Forest - taking its enemies by surprise.

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Map of the German Invasion of France and the Low Countries

The Who
Adolph Hitler, Leader and Reichs Chancellor of Germany
General Gerd von Rundstedt, German Army General
General Heinz Guderian, German Army General
General Fedor von Bock, German Army General
General Erich von Manstein, German Army General
General Erwin Rommel, German Army General
General Hermann Hoth, German Army General
General Maurice Gamelin, French Commander-in-Chief (until May 17th)
General Maxime Weygand, French Army General (succeeding Gamelin)
Charles de Gaulle, French Army Colonel
Field Marshal John Vereker (Lord Gort), BEF Command


The When and Where
May 10th, 1940 to June 14th, 1940. The armistice between France and Germany was signed on June 22nd. The majority of the battles centered within Belgium up to the Channel coast and across northern France.


The What
Prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler and his generals planned the conquest of France and the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). The Germans laid down a careful plan in which diversionary forces would enter Belgium and draw up British and French units from their prepared positions. A second force would navigate the Ardennes Forest and bypass the Maginot Line, its drive intended to severe the northern Allied forces from the south. Beyond the concrete fortifications and heavy guns of the Maginot Line, the French were relying on the natural obstacle that was the Ardennes Forest, deemed impassable by French authorities. The German goal was simple - taking Holland and Luxembourg before conquering Belgium and France - making for the English Channel, crushing any Allied resistance along the way and capturing Paris. From this, a short crossing of the English Channel was all that was required of the German military to take Britain. German success with the "Blitzkrieg" (General Guderian being a key proponent of the doctrine) against Poland streamlined the invasion process and offered priceless experience to units.


The western European invasion began at 2:30am on May 10th, involving infantry crossing into Holland and Belgium and joined by German paratroopers taking the Belgian fort at Eben-Emael and its 2,000-strong garrison with the loss of just six German paratroopers. Other key paradrops netted strategic bridges and villages that would allow passage of German armor. Paratroopers also landed in Rotterdam and The Hague under complete surprise.


General von Bock's Army Group B moved into Holland and Belgium with 30 infantry divisions to set up the ruse. He was joined by the 44 divisions (including Panzer tank forces) of General von Rundstedt's Army Group A in the south. Army Group C fell to General Leeb and was positioned at the Maginot Line with 17 divisions intended to hold the French attention there.


Allied defenses were drawn up to expect the mass of the German forces coming through Belgium as they had done decades earlier in World War 1. By the numbers, the Allied forces were quite comparable to the invaders and, in some ways, stronger and more quantitative. The "Dyle Plan" was developed to create a defensive front created by the natural barrier that was the Dyle River, the front running north to Wavre and into Holland at the River Maas. Preparations were completed by May 14th.


Back on the afternoon of May 12th, German General Guderian's three divisions had successfully made a footprint at the Meuse River near Sedan and, by nightfall, enemy forces were in control of the right river bank as far north as Dinant in preparation for crossing. The French believed the crossings would require up to four days which would buy the Allies much needed time. However, German engineering prowess, even under fire, managed the crossing in just 24 hours. This allowed for complete German bridgeheads to be set up at Dinant, Montherme and Sedan by the end of May 14th to provide the springboard into France proper.


On May 15th, the Germans enacted their final push into France, moving all manner of man and machinery out from the bridgeheads and towards Paris and the Channel coast - the touted Maginot Line proved irrelevant to the French defense at this point and air superiority was in the hands of the Germans. Slow response and uncoordinated actions spelt doom for the defenders at every turn.


The Numbers
The Germans were able to commit 141 total divisions to the fighting, made up of 2,445 tanks, 7,378 artillery and 5,638 aircraft complementing its 3.35 million-strong infantry force. Comparatively, the Allies mustered 144 divisions with 14,000 artillery, 3,383 tanks and 3,000 aircraft to go along with their contingent of 3.3 million troops. The BEF was made up of 10 divisions under French command.


Despite valiant attempts by the Allies to hold positions, the Germans prevailed at the cost of 157,600 dead and as many as 1,345 aircraft and 800 tanks lost. The Allies fared much worse with 360,000 dead/wounded, 2,233 aircraft lost and some 1.9 million soldiers taken prisoner.


Much to Hitler's delight, his offensive to take Paris lasted all of 1 month and 12 days leading up to the French surrender.


What Happened?
By bypassing the Maginot Line, the Germans completed the unthinkable passing of the Ardennes Forest. Allied forces committed to the north and fell into the German trap which relied on excellent coordinated assaults from armor, artillery and dive bombers covered by fighter escorts, overwhelming the poorly-coordinated and arranged Allied forces. Despite a few successful counter attacks including the action by Colonel de Gaulle at Montcornet, the Allies could claim little and their situation worsened with streams of refugees beginning to choke key roads. Compared to the fluid German movements, the defending Allies found themselves in a poor position and not knowing the ultimate German goal - control of the Channel ports of the taking of Paris itself.


The German's lightning fast offensive through the Low Countries finally netted Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium as enemy forces reached the Channel on May 19th. The Dutch had already surrendered on May 15th, a day after Rotterdam was pounded by German bombers resulting in the deaths of 1,000 citizens and the destruction of some 78,000 homes. On May 17th and 18th, the capital city of Brussels was taken and followed by the key port city of Antwerp - prompting the Allies still trapped in the north to retreat to the coast for their lives. An Allied counterattack on May 24th found limited success but was beaten back in turn. With Brussels having fallen, King Leopold III relocated his government to Paris and surrendered his army to the Germans on May 28th.


Upon reaching the coast, German units in the north were halted to allow supplies to catch up and ready the army for the conquest of France. The remaining BEF and French forces holed up along an ever-shrinking defensive perimeter at Dunkirk, left to Hermann Goering's vaunted Luftwaffe to ultimately destroy.


With that, the German Army in the north turned its attention south and entered the French frontier. A defensive front was established at the Somme and Aisne rivers but their proved futile. Lest the historical structures of Paris be lost to German bombs and tanks, the capital city was handed over without a fight to the Germans who arrived on June 14th. The armistice was signed on June 22nd, 1940, officially ending the German campaign against the Low Countries and France. To add insult to France's injury, Adolf Hitler ordered the French surrender to be signed in the same railway car that the humiliating German surrender to France was signed at the end World War 1 decades earlier.


The conquest of western Europe was now complete. The entire German offensive netted four countries in just six weeks.


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There are a total of 14 Invasion of France and the Low Countries Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1940
Friday
May 10th

German airborne elements land across Belgium and Holland in advance of ground forces, capturing key bridges and routes.

1940
Friday
May 10th

German paratroopers land in The Hague and Rotterdam.

1940
Friday
May 10th

89 German paratroopers land and take the Belgium fortress of Eben Emael with its garrison of 2,000 soldiers.

1940
Saturday
May 11th

British and French army forces begin defensive preparations in Belgium in an effort to stave off the German advance. A long line of strategic defenses is contructed.

1940
Tuesday
May 14th

Facing light opposition, German Panzer Corps XV, XLI and XIX are free to set up three key bridge-heads covering Dinant, Montherme and Sedan.

1940
Tuesday
May 14th

Panzer Corps XV and XIX break through the Allied defenses at Sedan, allowing German forces to completely bypass the formidable defenses at the French Maginot Line.

1940
Wednesday
May 15th

German Panzer Corps cross into the north of France.

1940
Wednesday
May 15th

After periods of heavy bombing all across Rotterdam, the Dutch surrender to the Germans.

1940
Friday
May 17th - May 18th

Antwerp falls to the German Army.

1940
Friday
May 17th - May 18th

Brussels falls to the German Army.

1940
Friday
May 17th - May 18th

Allied forces are in full retreat of the Germans, making their way towards the French coastline.

1940
Tuesday
May 21st

An Allied counterattack against the German Army near Arras ends in failure as the attack is itself countered by another advancing German land force.

1940
Tuesday
May 28th

King Leopold of Belgium orders his army to surrender to the Germans. By this time, his government has already relocated to Paris, France.

1940
Tuesday
May 28th

With Belgium out of the way, German Army elements begin making their way towards the French coastline in an attempt to completely eliminate Allied forces for good.