The invasions of Poland and France were fairly similar in some ways. From a military standpoint, the surprising blitzkrieg tactics were remarkably effective. A difference in the importance of race war is obvious. It was a far more dominant factor in the push for the invasion of Poland than in the invasion of France. The occupational policies in each country therefore differed greatly; Poland was annexed completely (once the Soviets had taken their half), but over a third of France was left to largely rule itself. But these are not as significant as the effect the invasions had upon the German military and the Allies view of Germany’s military strength, especially regarding the confidence of the German military. Contrasted with the the apprehension of the German public right before the invasion of Poland, the victory in France and it’s ensuing influence on the German Army’s belief–and the Allies belief–in German Military invincibility is the most notable difference between the two invasions.
Germany’s invasion of Poland was ideologically motivated by a long standing distrust and disdain for the Poles. Poland’s independence was an aberration, or so Germans felt and thought. And to conquer Poland was only to reassert rightful German control.1 The promotion of Germany’s need for Lebensraum made the invasion and subsequent plans for the depopulation of Poland a logical choice. Poland’s border with Germany was easily penetrable, as there were no natural defenses.2 3 The general German public, as well as the military, were highly indoctrinated by all forms of media propaganda that further deepened perceptions of the Poles as an inferior race.4
Despite this belief, Germany was highly apprehensive and unenthusiastic on the eve of the invasion. Hitler’s speeches just before the invasion were poorly attended by less than enthusiastic crowds.5 It seems that Goebbels propaganda campaigns had yet to become truly effective at this point. In an unusual juxtaposition, the Germany and the Allies both expected little resistance from Poland. Poland’s army had not modernized in comparison to the Soviets or the Germans. In addition, Poland was flanked on the north, west, and south by German territory.6
The Poles themselves feared both the Russians and the Germans, and hoped to avoid confronting or siding with either group militarily or otherwise, but their balancing act failed. The German’s blitzkrieg tactics proved themselves very effective, especially against the ill-equipped Poles who mobilized much too late to expect successful resistance.7 By the end of September, 1939, western Poland was occupied, and it wasn’t long before the Soviets took over the eastern half of the country.8 Germany’s success was unsurprising to both Germany and the Allies, but the speed with which they accomplished the task did make an impression.9
Subsequently, the German army attacked northward and swiftly took Denmark, Holland, and Norway. The military continued on, moving back across Germany and poising itself to attack Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Ideology played a smaller role in Germany’s attack on France. Instead, reasons for invading France included neutralizing France as a threat to Germany’s western front, revenge for WWI and the Treaty at Versailles, gaining access to French resources, and obtaining an advantageous position by utilizing France’s coastline for submarine warfare.10 These were largely practical concerns, but these more particular reasons behind invading France were of little real significance to the German populace as a whole. Nazi ideology had penetrated the civilian and military spheres to a great degree, and German superiority, along with a “belief in existential struggle” were reason enough to attack and dominate all of Europe.11
At this point, Hitler still wanted to wage a limited war—maximizing territory gained for expenditures and casualties. This he did fairly successfully, overrunning France’s disorganized defenses in about a month.12 Hitler needed such success, because Germany’s economy wasn’t geared for long-term warfare. He had instituted plans in 1936 meant to increase Germany’s industrial capacities, but the economy in 1939 was plugging along in a relatively typical fashion, focused largely on consumer goods, rather than on weaponry and armaments.13
France’s defeat took only 7 weeks, according to Megargee, while Lyons claims only 5 weeks.14 15 While France didn’t hold out much longer than Poland, it wasn’t due to an ill-equipped army. France’s defeat was due to poor planning, poor communication, and poor leadership in general. France was divided politically quite severely and such internal divisions between military officials weakened and delayed their responses to the invasion.16 On June 22, France and Germany signed an armistice, much to Hitler’s satisfaction.17 18
The rapid fall of France shocked the Allies—and Germany. The French army had done some damage to the German’s in eastern Belgium early on, but their success was short-lived, and Germany reveled in it’s Military achievements. Hitler now controlled vast portions of Europe, and after brief attempts at annexing Britain (by invitation, then by force) Hitler again turned his eyes eastward. The complexity of the war had increased, and Hitler remained strategically uncommitted. The Germany economy had still not retrenched to become a more sustaining effort in support of the war, yet Hitler insisted on not only engaging Britain, but also turning on the Soviet Union.19
With blitzkrieg tactics having proven themselves, the goal of creating Lebensraum, and the race war ideology accompanying it, led Germany into a doomed assault on the eastern front. The Soviet Union was surprised at Germany’s betrayal and lost ground rapidly, but the assault was eventually unsuccessful.
1Megargee, Geoffrey P., War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, (Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006), 10-11.
2Lyons, Michael J., World War II: A Short History, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2004) 66-67, 71-72.
5Fritz, Stephen G., Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II, (Lexington, KT: The University Press of Kentucky, 1995), 187-8.
7Ibid., 71, 73.
9Lyons, 73, 95-96.
12Lyons, 69, 89, 95.
16Ibid., 87-88, 93.
18Lyons, 94. (Caption under photograph)