Armies, Prisons, Schools
ON MAY 10, 1940, Army Group A of General Gerd von Rundstedt left its positions in Germany, moved through Luxembourg unopposed and through the southern part of Belgium with only slight opposition, and attacked France. By May 13, the 7th Panzer Division led by General Erwin Rommel had crossed the Meuse River near Dinant and elements of General Heinz Guderian's 19th Panzer Corps had crossed the Meuse near Sedan. On May 14, Guderian sent two armored divisions racing west; by May 19 they had crossed the Somme and later that day had reached Abbeville, a short distance from the English Channel. By the end of the month, the British had been evacuated from Dunkirk. On June 22, France capitulated. In six weeks, the German army had defeated the combined forces of Britain, France, and Belgium. It was, in the opinion of many, the greatest military victory of modern times.
The German success was an example of blitzkrieg (literally, lightning war). The word has become so familiar that we mistake it for an explanation. Military officers and historians know differently, but the public at large probably thinks that the key to the German victory can be found in some of the connotations blitzkrieg suggests to our minds: A fully mobi- lized German nation, striking suddenly and without warning, uses its nu- merical superiority and large supply of advanced tanks and aircraft to overpower a French army hiding in the forts and pillboxes of the Maginot line. The Germans, in this view, were superior to the French in strategy, in resources, and in the fanatical will to fight that had been achieved by ideological indoctrination and centralized command.