The Invasion of Germany in the Second World War.
Most would believe I am referring to the Allied invasion of Germany in late March 1945, during the final phase of the Second World War. Nearly six long years of fierce fighting in North Africa, Italy, and Western-Europe, led to this final climactic moment in history, where the allies would begin their final push into the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich. By this late stage of the war, the majority of the fighting had already concluded, and Hitler’s once feared Wehrmacht, was by then a shell of its former self. Having lost the vast majority of its strength, in the defeats of previous years.
The war was already lost. The defense of Germany now relied heavily on Volkstrusm forces: a home-guard militia consisting of mostly under-equipped young boys and old men. These forces were easily pushed aside by the Allies during their rapid advance. In only a few weeks, the Allies and Soviet forces successfully swept across Nazi Germany, bringing to an end, the bloodiest conflict in human history to-date.
However, this was not the first and only invasion of Germany by the Allies in the Second World War. There was, in fact, a far earlier invasion that took place in the first week of the conflict in 1939, that scarcely anyone knows occurs.
If the initial successes of this 1939 offensive had been followed-up by Allied forces, it may have brought a swift end to a war that would result in the death of millions and take a further six years to conclude.
The first offensive into Nazi Germany
In the summer of 1939, it became clear to the Allies that Hitler was determined to invade Poland, and that their combined efforts for peaceful negations had collapsed. As a result, the Allied agreed to enter into an agreement to go to war with German once Hitler began his invasion.
Finally, on September 1st of that year, a 1.5 million-strong German force invaded Poland along its 1,750-mile border. Although the Polish army resisted valiantly against the Nazi invaders, they were hopelessly outnumbered, as well as out-gunned. Within a week, the Germans had made deep inroads into the country.
On September 3rd, Britain and France declared war on Hitler’s Germany, initiating the Second World War. But what could France and Britain do to aid their Polish allies? Not very much directly, owing much to geography. However, the French did see an opportunity. The German border region with France, known as the Saarland, was a vital industrial region fuelling Hitler’s war effort. While the Germans concentrated the majority of their forces in the fight with Poland, the French army could invade Germany from the west and prevent the vital industrial region from fueling Hitler’s war-machine.
Thus, on September 7th, 1939, only a week into the start of the conflict, the French army launched what would be known as the Saar offensive. At first, French progress was relatively swift and smooth, as French troops moved unopposed into Nazi Germany. To the French high-commands surprise, even after capturing several enemy towns, there was still no response from the enemy. It was all rather bizarre. Instead, they found throughout German villages, placards bearing printed messages such as: “French soldiers, we have no quarrel with you. We shall not fire unless you do.” Instead of sending explosive projectiles, Germans parked loudspeaker vans blasting propaganda messages toward the French lines or erected billboards bearing messages of peace and goodwill. France even continued receiving an uninterrupted supply of electricity from German power stations.
It appeared the Germans were not taking the war that seriously.
What started as an aggressive first move by the French, soon devolved into something looking more like a leisurely stroll. As the French passed more and more vacant enemy positions, unopposed, the more cautious and suspicious of Hitler’s plans, they became. The deeper they advanced into the enemy’s homeland the slower they pushed forward.
In some ways, the advance soon became almost comical. In one village, a single German machine gun held up the French advance for more than a day. With such delays, the Saar foray dwindled into a confused demonstration.
The French only made a 5-miles penetration into Germany before halting and shifting to the defensive.
The reason for the French high-command’s hesitancy is due to the fact, they believed Hitler was preparing a major counter-attack with his all-powerful panzer tanks and u-87 Stuka dive bombers.
Unfortunately, if the French discovered that that 90% of the German airforce was battling in Poland at the time, and there were absolutely no panzers facing them, the situation might have been very different. In reality, the Germans forces did not even have anti-tank weapons capable of neutralizing French tanks. In few rare exchanges, German anti-tank shells bounced harmlessly off the armor of the French Char B1 tanks.
If the French had pressed their attacks, nothing would have stopped them.
Taking a calculated risk, Hitler had stripped the Western defenses of all its tanks and airplanes, in an attempt to guarantee overwhelming victory in the east. Only light defenses of 22 under-equipped Wehrmacht divisions remained to defend Germany’s western frontier regions bordering France. This ragtag force hardly sufficed to hold off a determined enemy attack. Yet, Hitler was unconcerned with the French advances, as he hoped the confusing signals he was sending would buy him time to achieve victory in Poland.
By the beginning of October 1939, Poland was effectively defeated, with its capital city of Warsaw captured, and only pockets of Polish resistance still remaining. This allowed Hitler to begin transferring his divisions and heavy-equipment to the Western Front, in order to repulse the French invaders. Before long, on October 16th, 1939, he launched a counter-offensive into the Saarland, easily pushing the French back to their border. To make matters worst, with the Luftwaffe (German airforce) operating with near-impunity, any possibility of a successful Allied offensive was long-gone.
In the end, France’s 14-day escapade into Nazi Germany in 1939, concluded the only French offensive of the war. Costing the French 2,000 casualties and four tanks destroyed, while the Germans did not even suffer half that number.
The Saar offensive poses some serious questions about what would have happened if the French with British support had pressed their invasion with more divisions and the necessary tank support. An all-out French offensive while Hitler was pre-occupied in Poland, could have very well made significant inroads into western Germany while it was defended by a vastly inferior force. Hitler may have been forced to scale back operations or even stop the invasion of Poland altogether to protect the German homeland from Allied incursion.
Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the German Armed Forces throughout the Second World War, at the Nuremberg Trials went as far as to claim:
“if we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.”
If the French had known what was to happen to their nation just seven months later, perhaps they would have prioritized this invasion. The next chance the allies got to invade Germany would occur nearly six years later.