September, October, and November have been bleak for the war on land. After initial German penetrations of the Polish line in the northwest and southwest, the Polish defences crumble almost immediately. My hesitation about sending an expeditionary force was probably quite prudent, as it seems there is little hope. The blitzkrieg
concept is put on full display as German armour punches gaping holes and races towards Warsaw followed closely by a steady stream of infantry. Polish defenders, shown here on 26 September, are in full retreat as the Germans advance across the entire front.
Poland surrenders on 6 October.
Meanwhile, in France, there is no such thing as the ‘Phony War’ – the Germans are simultaneously launching a large-scale assault on the Maginot Line. I have confidence in the French defences, which are bolstered by a line of very tough fortifications between Belgium/Luxembourg and Switzerland. I therefore decide to help out as I can, and raise the 1st Expeditionary Army consisting of 3rd and 4th Corps, and attach it to Home Command. Ten divisions belonging to 3rd and 4th Corps are ferried across the Channel to Caen by 1 and 2 Transport Group, and they take up station on the line on or around 11 October. Below, the full order of battle for the 1st Expeditionary Army is shown on the left. Most of the divisions consist of two or three motorized infantry brigades. The exception is the 1st Armoured, which is two light armoured brigades, one medium armoured brigade, and a motorized infantry brigade.
4th Corps, with its armoured division, is tasked to cover the northern half where the fighting is heaviest and the Germans have already made some advances. 3rd Corps covers the southern half, which is more defensible by virtue of the river running north-south along the border. I have also attached 1 and 2 Bomber Group for ground attack and logistics bombing, and 1 Fighter Group for escort duty.
Much to my satisfaction, the 50th 'Northumbrian' in Metz, the 1st Armoured in Nancy, and the 1st 'London' in Strasbourg hold their ground against the superior attacking force. But, as seen in Poland, the Germans have mastered combined arms warfare, and have opened a gap in the centre, reaching as far as St Dié in the southwest. The German units also receive massive bonuses from experience: some or all of these divisions no doubt saw action in Poland.
I began to pull back some units to regroup further west and attempt to close the gap. As you can see from this image as well, the fighting is particularly bloody: the Battle of Nancy that concluded 26 October cost each side nearly 2,000 men.
By 21 November, the situation has not improved significantly. We are succeeding in stemming the German attack; they’ve only managed to penetrate a hundred miles or so in the two months of solid fighting. But we are still yielding ground, and I am concerned that the increasingly disorganized French forces in the north congregated in the northwest are near total exhaustion. My bombers have been particularly useless over the last few weeks – German air cover is just too strong. 1 Fighter Group based at Metz loses its airfield to the Germans and is withdrawn closer to Paris.
By the end of November, the situation in France appears as below.
At the moment I have no confidence that this front can hold. For the moment, I am debating between deploying reinforcements or withdrawing 1st Expeditionary Army completely before any serious risk of encirclement and destruction at the hands of the Germans.
Despite these last few bitter weeks on land, the war at sea has been going exceedingly well for Britain.
After the engagement earlier in September, 1 Carrier Group tracked the battlecruiser Gneisenau
to the port of Kolberg near the Polish front. On 21 September, flights of Fairey Swordfish from 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th Carrier Air Groups launch from HM carriers Furious
in the Southern Baltic, and successfully send both Gneisenau
and a U-boat flotilla to the bottom of Kolberg harbour.
On 29 September, 1 Surface Group headed up by HM battleships Rodney
spots and engages a German surface group in the Heligoland Bight. Gneisenau
’s sister ship Scharnhorst
is put down.
Then, in early October, 1 Carrier Group spots yet another German surface group in the Kattegat. The group includes the vaunted German battleships Bismarck
. A running battle down the eastern Danish coast nets 1 Carrier Group yet more victories: Bismarck
goes to an early grave in the Øresund on 4 October, and Blücher
is sunk off the Pommeranian Coast on 5 October. Tirpitz
and Graf Spee
are chased into the port of Lübeck, where my planes follow. We get our first taste of fortress Europe, however: enemy air cover over Lübeck is very thick, and after sustaining considerable losses, I cancel the port strike.
My fleet holds off Lübeck for the next few weeks, hoping to coax Tirpitz
out for another go. Unfortunately, the Germans have launched a surprise invasion of Denmark, and their race to the Skagerrak risks trapping my fleet in the Baltic. I withdraw my fleet back into the North Sea on 3 November.
There is nothing I can do for the Danes. They surrender on 9 November.
On the production front, some good news: upgrades are moving along enough that I can shift some industrial capacity into building new units. I have ordered three new squadrons of dive bombers, two of interceptors, and five new armoured divisions. The divisions constitute a single brigade of medium tanks, two brigades of motorized infantry, and a supporting brigade of tank destroyers. My hope is they will give me some edge against the German combined arms onslaught. The first five divisions will be deployed in June 1940.