Blitzkrieg: How Nazi Germany Crushed France in World War II
At the same time, Guderian was ordering his 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions to resume their advance, breaking out of the bridgehead. The 10th Panzer Division was still having trouble getting all its tanks over the river and was not yet ready to move. The two ready divisions would strike to the west across the Ardennes canal, while the bridgehead would be protected by the infantry of the Grossdeutschland Regiment.
A concentrated French counterattack could have spoiled the German plan. Strangely, however, the XXI Corps’ attack was cancelled and the armor-heavy force was instead dispersed across a 12-mile front, destroying its ability to effectively resist a focused German thrust. The French high command soon countermanded its order and commanded the corps to reassemble and counterattack as soon as possible on May 15.
The XXI Corps commander issued a new order for the attack, but not until 11:30 am on May 15. Rather than an armored thrust, it was to be an infantry attack with the tanks in support. The tanks had already been dispersed, and it took time to recall them. The attack had to be postponed twice; once to 3 pm and then again to 5:30 pm. Finally, it was cancelled altogether. It was France’s last opportunity to strike at the bridgehead.
On May 15, while the French were mired in confusion, the Grossdeutschland Regiment struck out to seize the high ground around Stonne, south of the lodgment. They went up against a combined force of French tanks and infantry. The Germans had only a few antitank guns to support their riflemen, but after difficult fighting the French were pushed back. This secured the German XIX Panzer Corps’ southern flank. The rest of the corps now advanced to the west.
The 1st Panzer division seized Bouvellemont on the night of May 15. Once again, Balck’s panzergrenadiers were in the lead despite their exhaustion. Meanwhile, 2nd Panzer defeated the French 53rd Division a few miles to the north. It was the final act of the Battle of Sedan. Nothing remained between the panzers and the French coast.
The Battle of Sedan was a critical event in the fall of France. The Germans were prepared to carry out their new war of movement; they had trained extensively for it. Their military was in many ways designed for short, sharp campaigns.
The French military suffered from problems in morale and was more capable of refighting World War I than embracing new concepts. This allowed the aggressive Germans to control the tempo of the fighting from the beginning. When the French could not react quickly and appropriately, the result was four years of brutal Nazi occupation, ended only through a combined Allied effort.
Christopher Miskimon is a regular contributor to WWII History. He writes the regular book review column and is an officer in the Colorado National Guard’s 157th Regiment.
This article originally appeared on Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Matthias Holländer