Military History Q&A Series Q18

I’m back! After several weeks of not writing about military history but rather book reviews, AND several weeks of international travel to SE Asia and Orlando, I’m continuing the back and forth I had with my coworker from several months ago.

Brett’s Question: Didn’t the other European countries notice the Germans ramping up their military? It must have taken a while to raise the army and build the tanks? I don’t understand why they were still so surprised.

To answer this question, we have to go back to the end of World War 1 and the general social, political, and economic environment of the 1920s and 1930s Europe.

At end of World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles effectively disarmed Germany down to 100,000 men in the new Reichswehr under the Weimar Republic. The new German Army was stripped of all tanks and aircraft except maybe transports. The treaty and subsequent codicils were meant to punish Germany for her role in starting and fighting World War 1, conveniently forgetting the fact it was a Serbian assassin.

However, forward thinkers did not accept the state of affairs and saw just how effective tanks and aircraft were. The rapid development of new aircraft technology and improvements in automotive internal combustion engines meant Germany had to keep up. But while bound by the hated Treaty of V, they obeyed the letter of the law by flaunting the spirit. They hid the fact they were learning to how build a modern army with tanks and aviation by disguising their flight schools as “Civilian Interest Flying Groups” or did their R&D in Russia or other friendly countries.


German Fokker D13s at Lipetsk Air Force Base, Soviet Union, circa 1924. The Reichswehr hid their planes in the Soviet Union.

You also have to keep in mind the general Western European mindset of the 1930s; they had survived one World War. Who was going to want to fight another one? Appeasement was national foreign policy for Fr. and GB. and any reason not to fight or turn a blind eye was better than confronting the Nazis.

As for the technology once the war started, in many ways, some of the French tanks were superior to the German tanks in armor and main cannon.


Renault Char B1 bis

The FR felt they had kept up with the changes in technology in line with the Germans and could beat them. The FR knew some of the limitations of the German tanks and also their own Maginot Line. 


What the FR did not have was an updated tactical playbook

Fall Rot (Case Red in English) is a book which states that the French suffered performance issues despite having a modern army. When I say performance issues, I’m referring to how lackadaisical some of the top French generals were; I’m not referring to the general bravery of the average French soldiers on the front lines.

To answer the question briefly, the Germans achieved operational and tactical surprise and learned to match their strengths against the Allies’ weaknesses, both on the battlefield and off it.

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