A Blunted Sickle

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7th February 1940

General Gamelin sat at his desk after the meeting he’d had with his staff for the new Dyle plan. It hadn’t gone well – his staff was split, while his deputy Georges was downright scathing. Not particularly about the details of the plan – he’d been quite complimentary about those, unusually for him, but one point he’d thundered on about at some length. “Where is the Reserve?” The various Army commanders had their own reserves, of course, but there was no real central one. For what they expected the Germans to do it was the best plan available – but Georges’ accusation that he was planning to fight the last war had struck a nerve. If they did try something new, he’d be in trouble. At the back of his mind, a shred of doubt started to bother him – Georges had been imposed by his political enemies and wanted his job, but was still a very competent general.

Alone in his office, he got the maps out and started to sketch out an alternative plan with the strong reserve that Georges wanted. He’d then have his staff game out both options, and hopefully that would make things a little clearer.

Between his forces and the British he had 44 divisions available in the North, and another 48 manning the Maginot line. It was too dangerous to just transfer forces from the south to give his Northern forces the reserve they needed – the cornerstone of French strategy was to channel a German attack to the North where mobile forces could deal with it – but he could use some of the forces there as a powerful reserve for employment after the axis of a German attack had been identified.

In Flanders, to create a reserve he had no option but to shorten the line. He daren’t weaken the forces holding the Dyle or especially the Gembloux gap, and without them there was no reserve. That in turn meant reverting to the Eschaut plan, with a few modifications.

15th February 1940

The staff meeting was over. Georges had seemed far less sure of his demand for a reserve, while Gamelin hadn’t mentioned audacity once. The main result was a long list of questions for the Military Intelligence branch. How much warning would they have of a German attack? What sort of co-operation would the Belgians give them? How strong was the KW line, really? How did the crossings of the Dyle and Schelde compare? Colonel Vallory realised he wasn’t going to be getting much sleep for the next two weeks, and started drawing up orders for some of his subordinates to take a “motoring holiday” in Belgium.
Interesting, will follow it closely. Incidentally, do you read French language ? This might be of interest to you ;)

I do read French, but it's extremely rusty. Hard work, but from what I've read not massively convincing - Georges is implausibly prescient, and the Germans seem to be excessively concerned about what he's doing.
This looks good. Nice to see someone try to put forth a France not blind, deaf and dumb
So far as I can tell from my reading so far, this is the plan they almost adopted instead of the Dyle plan of OTL (for the reasons in the story). Couple more updates in the next few days to take us up to the invasion of Belgium/The Netherlands, then a short hiatus while I read up on the OTL battles before trying to write new ones.
4th March 1940

…”Intelligence branch now have grave concerns about the ability of the Belgians to resist the Boche for any length of time. The KW line is upon inspection only partially built, and one of my officers who was able to examine it closely described it as resembling the Hindenberg line far more closely than the Maginot line. While there are some strong, modern fortifications such as Eben Emael, we are concerned that without our support the Germans will be able to bypass them and neutralise them at leisure. ”
“Another of my officers was able to call on a friend from the last war, now a retired Colonel, and talk at some length about the co-operation we would be likely to receive from the Belgian Army in the event of a German invasion. This officer’s opinion (corroborated by informal contacts with other serving Belgian officers) was that it would take 2-3 days from a declaration of war before we got full cooperation from the Belgians. He expected the course of events would involve a call for help and permission to enter the country being immediately granted, but due to the current strict neutrality policy it would take much longer to achieve any sort of unity of command. 2-3 days is the minimum for some sort of co-operation, and our contact thought it might be several weeks (depending on the level of German pressure) to get it working to an acceptable standard.”
“Finally, regarding fixed defences in the Gembloux gap. My officers spent two days in Gembloux on a ‘walking holiday’ and could find little evidence of work on fixed defences having started. On consultation with the Chief Engineer we estimate that it would take a minimum of two weeks to build the field defences there up to an acceptable state.”

Gamelin and Georges looked over at each other when the presentation finished. This was far worse than either had suspected, particularly around Gembloux. Gamelin then cleared his throat.
“Colonel Vallory, has your branch made an assessment of how likely it is that the Belgians can hold off the Germans for at least three weeks in the event of a major attack?”
“A lot depends on how well the Belgian troops fight Sir, but we aren’t sanguine. There are of course a wide variety of estimates, but most seem to centre on reaching the Dyle line approximately 10 days after invading, and the Eschaut line 2-3 days after that. This is of course for the first troops – we do not believe the enemy would be able to deploy their full strength for some time after that as we anticipate forts like Eben Emael will be restricting their supply routes for some weeks.”
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Ah, good stuff.

Nice to see they are still going to get a surprise at Eban Emael, but French awareness of the lack of defences in the Gembloux gap could be a blessing or a curse.

On the one hand it could convince Gamelin that the E plan (Escaut or Scheldt) would be a better bet because Allied troops would find it much easier to get there before the Germans and also the Scheldt is a much more formidable obstacle than the Dyle. The line isn't actually shorter, but it would put French troops nearer their supply depots and also put them in a better position if the Germans try the thrust through the Ardennes (not that the French were aware of this possibility)

On the other hand it could convince Gamelin to go with the D Plan (Dyle), and fill the gap by deploying one of his DLMs to the Gembloux gap where it could carry out its alloted tasks of reconnaissance, screening and delaying to buy time for the infantry to dig in.

OTL Gamelin favoured Plan E before he found out that the Belgians were working to fortify the Gembloux Gap and switched to Plan D.

Of course, what is screamingly obvious regardless of which plan is implemented is that France needs to maintain a decent mobile reserve to deal with the unexpected. They only got away with it in 1914 by the skin of their teeth and moving the 7th Army anywhere away from the central reserve is madness for a country banking on a long war.
General Gamelin’s Office, 10 minutes later

“One of the first principles of diplomacy, Vallory, is that you must know something of the truth in order to lie convincingly. What the hell do you think would have happened if the Belgians found out you had invaded them, and without my knowledge to boot? If you ever do something so mind-numbingly stupid ever again you’ll spend the rest of your miserable career counting cabbages on Kerguelen. Now get out of my office.”

As his intelligence officer scampered out, Gamelin reflected that the man was turning out rather well. No doubt he had arranged everything in advance with Belgian Intelligence, but like all new staff officers his enthusiasm needed reining in now and again.

The information he’d brought back though, that was very valuable. If he was to stick with the Dyle plan, he needed to find sufficient forces to hold off a full-scale German attack for at least a week while his engineers finished fortifying Gembloux. To do so would take all his reserves, and probably a bit more besides – and he winced at the thought of what Georges would say about that. He’d be right to do so, too – thinking what he’d say to any new cadet at St Cyr who committed all his reserves before the enemy even arrived on the field of battle!
No, his first instinct some months ago now had been right: defend along the Eschaut and abandon the rest of Belgium. It made his future invasion of Germany harder, and gave up all chance of keeping contact with the Dutch. No matter. If the Belgians were so pig-headed as to believe that the Germans would just leave them alone, having swallowed Czechoslovakia and Poland already then let them be. He would not have the time or the men to save more than a sliver of their country in the event of invasion, although perhaps he could save some of their army.

Next, his staff needed to come up with a plan to thin the line out somewhat to get him his full reserve, both in the North and along the Maginot Line. In some ways it was a pity he couldn’t use the BEF in it’s entirety as part of his reserve – being fully motorised it was far more mobile than most of his troops. Sadly, the minister would probably have a fit – muttering about ‘Perfidious Albion’. As if Gort had anywhere he could go! Still, he should speak to Gort about this soon – perhaps he could send a Corps into the reserve, and his Navy might be able to do something about keeping contact with the Dutch across the Eschaut.
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Ah, you must have read my mind.

To be honest, I don't think it would be necessary to thin out the line for the reserve. Saving the 7th Army (which contained the 1st DLM) from a fool's errand would go a long way to establishing a decent reserve.

No mention so far of the air forces. I'm looking forward to that. :D

Oh, and if you could arrange is so that the Duke of Windsor meets with a fatal traffic accident, there will be a lot less well informed but loose chatter in Parisian cafe society. Walls have ears, as they say.
Just to be clear, this isn't a France-wank. The French troops have still got poor leadership and morale, and the communications between them and high command are pretty poor too. There is no way that this battle isn't going to be seen as a disaster from the Allied viewpoint - it's far too late to change that.

If he'd stuck with Plan D anyway, very little would have changed - he'd have committed even more of his reserve, and the whole force would still have been evacuated to the UK or destroyed. Not much AH about it really, so to some extent (I claim Writer's Fiat) I'm forced to switch to Plan E - if I don't there isn't a story.

As far as the reserve goes, Georges has got him spooked slightly and he's planning to concentrate a very strong motorised reserve behind the lines and reinforce the point of German main effort. This is helped by the fact that the advance is now to the Scheldt rather than the Dyle - a much shorter distance, for fewer troops. He's expecting to concentrate his motor transport with the reserve army, on the basis that those units on the French frontier really don't have to go anywhere. I'm reminded of Napoleon's comment when shown a defence plan which had the French army spread over the frontiers - he immediately enquired if the objective was to prevent smuggling. Exactly the same applies here - indeed, Georges may even have used that line in the meeting which precipitated the change.
To be clear he is NOT converted to some sort of armoured doctrine - as OTL, he wants the motorised units for their strategic rather than tactical mobility, and considers the Infantry the most important arm followed by the artillery.

So far as the air forces are concerned, I can't see their performance being much different from OTL (the POD really doesn't cause them to change much). However, should France survive this battle then I predict blood on the carpet at the French Air Ministry!

So far as the Duke of Windsor is concerned, perhaps being run over by a Pz 38(T) would be appropriate?
So far as the air forces are concerned, I can't see their performance being much different from OTL (the POD really doesn't cause them to change much). However, should France survive this battle then I predict blood on the carpet at the French Air Ministry!

So far as the Duke of Windsor is concerned, perhaps being run over by a Pz 38(T) would be appropriate?

I'm a great believer in confidence, and the French Air Force had had its confidence knocked out by Vuillemin's visit to the Luftwaffe, and hen by the Lw throwing eveything into the battle in the first few days. In terms of numbers they matched the Lw. In terms of quality they didn't. They held back from anything short of a decisive battle for fear of being anhialated. OTL this became the Maas Crossing. If the crossing looks less critical, if there is a reserve in position, maybe they would throw themselves in to a decisive battle that really was decisive, and not in penny numbers.

It's not a France wank, and I'm perturbed you'd think it was. However, OTL, its difficult to tell which side the DoW was working for.

John Farson

Just to be clear, is the timeline still at 3rd March 1940? If so, then the bolded part:

If the Belgians were so pig-headed as to believe that the Germans would just leave them alone, having swallowed Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark and Norway already then let them be.

Isn't possible as Operation Weserübung is still a month away.
Just curious, why is it called Blunted Sickle?

Very interesting PoD, small change but it will be interesting to see how the war unfolds.
Well if the Germans don't conquer France then it is going to turn into one compared to OTL ;)

And then you're going to have to put up with a barrage of criticism from those who derive their historical knowledge from watching The Simpsons.
"The French have to collapse. They're cheese eating surrender monkeys."
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