PANZERWAFFE - THE CAMPAIGNS IN THE WEST 1940
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PANZERWAFFE VOLUME TWO: THE CAMPAIGNS IN THE WEST 1940
The Belgians launched considerable counterattacks which were broken up by the Luftwaffe. Similar operations against the bridges in the Netherlands, at Maastricht, failed. All were blown up by the Dutch and only one railway bridge was taken. The Allies had been convinced Belgian resistance would have given them several weeks to prepare a defensive line at the Gembloux Gap.
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Gembloux was located between Wavre and Namur, on flat, ideal tank terrain. It was also an unfortified part of the Allied line. They would provide an advanced guarding screen which would stall the Germans and allow sufficient time for the French 1st Army to dig into formidable positions. The resulting Battle of Hannut , which took place on 12—13 May, was the largest tank battle until that date, with about 1, armoured fighting vehicles participating.
They recovered and eventually repaired or rebuilt many of their knocked-out tanks  so German irreparable losses amounted to just 49 tanks 20, 3rd Panzer and 29, 4th Panzer. The French would escape the encirclement and thus render invaluable support to the British Army in Dunkirk two weeks later. The attempt was repelled by the 1st Moroccan Infantry Division, costing 4. Panzerdivision another 42 tanks, 26 of which were irreparable.
This French defensive success was made irrelevant by events further south. The German advance was greatly hampered by the sheer number of troops trying to force their way along the poor road network. Kleist's Panzergruppe had more than 41, vehicles. This made Army Group A very vulnerable to French air attacks, but these did not materialise.
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The French had tried in vain to stem the flow of the German armour during the Battle of Maastricht and had failed with heavy losses. In two days, the bomber force had been reduced from to On 11 May, Gamelin had ordered reserve divisions to begin reinforcing the Meuse sector. Because of the danger the Luftwaffe posed, movement over the rail network was limited to night-time, slowing the reinforcement, but the French felt no sense of urgency as they believed the build-up of German divisions would be correspondingly slow.
The French Army did not conduct river crossings unless assured of heavy artillery support. While they were aware that the German tank and infantry formations were strong, they were confident in their strong fortifications and artillery superiority. However, the quality of the fighting men in the area was dubious; their artillery was designed for fighting infantry, and they were short of both antiaircraft and antitank guns.
The deeper positions were held by the 55th Infantry Division. This was only a grade "B" reserve division. Furthermore, it had a superiority in artillery to the German units present. Instead of slowly massing artillery as the French expected, the Germans concentrated most of their air power as they lacked strong artillery forces to smash a hole in a narrow sector of the French lines by carpet bombing and by dive bombing.
Some of the forward pillboxes were unaffected and repulsed the crossing attempts of the 2. Panzerdivision s. The morale of the deeper units of the 55th Infantry, however, had been broken by the effect of the air attacks. The French supporting artillery batteries had fled. The disorder that had begun at Sedan spread down the French lines.
bunpotivere.tk It fled, creating a gap in the French defences, before even a single German tank had crossed the river. This "Panic of Bulson" also involved the divisional artillery. The Germans had not attacked their position, and would not do so until 12 hours later, at on 14 May. Recognising the gravity of the defeat at Sedan, General Gaston-Henri Billotte , commander of the 1st Army Group, whose right flank pivoted on Sedan, urged that the bridges across the Meuse be destroyed by air attack, convinced that "over them will pass either victory or defeat!
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Some 44 percent of the Allies' bomber strength was destroyed. Rommel in The decision proved crucial to the German success. At on 14 May, von Rundstedt confirmed this order, which implied that the tanks should now start to dig in. In the original von Manstein Plan as Guderian had suggested, secondary attacks would be carried out to the southeast, in the rear of the Maginot Line, to confuse the French command.
This resulted in an armoured collision, both parties trying in vain to gain ground in furious attacks from 15—17 May, the village of Stonne changing hands many times. Huntzinger considered this at least a defensive success and limited his efforts to protecting his flank. Holding Stonne and taking Bulson would have enabled the French to hold onto the high ground overlooking Sedan.
They could disrupt the Sedan bridgehead, even if they could not take it. Heavy battles took place and Stonne changed hands 17 times. It fell to the Germans for the last time on the evening of 17 May. Guderian, meanwhile, had turned his other two armoured divisions, the 1. Panzerdivision s , sharply to the west on 14 May.