Into the Fire - the "Minor" nations of WW2 strike back

Even if it was strategically inconsequential, the Belgians being able to launch a counterattack that disrupted German plan is sure to become a famous moment for them!

The waterline holds, and the Netherlands surrender in good order. Most importantly German paratrooper losses are horrible. Will they even be able to launch the OTL crete operation?
Well, since possibility of preventing Crete was adressed I'd like to think about growing chances of worsening the results of the Barbarossa for the Germans. Decimation of the 3rd Panzer Division means that the Germans will have less experienced officers and less available Panzers which will bite Germans in the ass later during Barbarossa cuz they had 13 Pz.1 and 59 Pz.2 at the start of the Barbarossa out 229 total. Yeah, IMHO, they would be a spent force at the moment of the Battle for Kiev (Kyiv) i.e. around August 1941.

And also the decimation of 3rd Panzer will mean more succeses for the WAllies during North African campaign (one of the regiments of the 3rd Panzer Division was used in the creation of 5th Light Division which was part of the Afrika Korps).

So, I'm looking forward to the Development of this TL.
Did some of the Belgium Buffalos arrived on time to massacre some Stukas?

No, they should arrive around the beginning of June as OTL.

Even if it was strategically inconsequential, the Belgians being able to launch a counterattack that disrupted German plan is sure to become a famous moment for them!

The waterline holds, and the Netherlands surrender in good order. Most importantly German paratrooper losses are horrible. Will they even be able to launch the OTL crete operation?

I think at this point the question is if the Germans would be in a position to launch Merkur at all.

Well, since possibility of preventing Crete was adressed I'd like to think about growing chances of worsening the results of the Barbarossa for the Germans. Decimation of the 3rd Panzer Division means that the Germans will have less experienced officers and less available Panzers which will bite Germans in the ass later during Barbarossa cuz they had 13 Pz.1 and 59 Pz.2 at the start of the Barbarossa out 229 total. Yeah, IMHO, they would be a spent force at the moment of the Battle for Kiev (Kyiv) i.e. around August 1941.

And also the decimation of 3rd Panzer will mean more succeses for the WAllies during North African campaign (one of the regiments of the 3rd Panzer Division was used in the creation of 5th Light Division which was part of the Afrika Korps).

So, I'm looking forward to the Development of this TL.

To be fair, the 3rd Panzer got its teeth kicked in OTL too (at Hannut and Gembloux). They lose slightly more machines ITTL due to the more effective support of the air force. But in a year, they would have time to replenish their stocks as long as they don't get stomped again. However, the loss of experienced officers will be irreplaceable.
The creation of the DAK in itself is a big question mark here considering the events that will follow.
All this can have repercussion over the Italian DoW; the more problematic the war is for Germany the less Benny is gun ho to enter the conflict and many of his higher ups (from Balbo to Ciano) are not very keen to join Germany
Chapter 9: Scuffle at Sedan (May 1940 part 1 – France)
May 10th - May 21st, 1940

On May 10th, as the invasion of the Low Countries started, the eyes had shifted from the Maginot line to the north. At the same time as the Netherlands and Belgium, Luxembourg was invaded. Already on alert thanks to the Belgian warnings, the Luxembourgian army and gendarmes put up a stiff resistance along the Schuster line.

Unfortunately, with less than 700 personnel, these efforts were doomed to fail. By the end of the day, the surviving Luxembourgian forces had retreated towards Longwy and the first casemates of the Maginot Line, which extended up until La Ferté. After that, it was the Belgian border, starting with…Sedan.

For the French high command, though, this was not really a problem. Marshal Pétain had described the Ardennes as « impenetrable » while Gamelin considered them the “best anti-tank obstacle in the world”. In all, the French command estimated that a breakthrough here would take the Germans two weeks to achieve.

This was an opinion that was not shared by all in the high command. General Prételat, for example, had conducted military exercises in 1938 that showed that the Meuse could be crossed in less than 60 hours, and with only a handful of divisions. His warnings were not heard [1].

As a result of this overconfidence, Sedan was only defended by one infantry division (the 55th), reinforced by another (the 71st) once the assault was underway. On the other side, the German high command had identified Sedan as the weak point of the French defense, and put three Panzer Divisions at Von Rundstedt’s disposal to break through and swoop in towards the sea.

But before Sedan, the Germans had to battle their way through Belgium. And there, the Belgian forces, on alert, gave them a big fight. The elite Chasseurs Ardennais, the “Green Devils”, as Rommel would nickname them, held firm at Bohange, protecting the road to Bastogne. The Germans would be delayed for two days as the Chasseurs organized controlled retreats and ambushes, before withdrawing in fear of a flanking manoeuvre from the north.

This resistance allowed the deployment of the 71st Infantry to Sedan, though this one was still incomplete by the evening of May 13th, when the 1st, 2nd and 10th Panzer Divisions arrived in front of the French city.

On the morning of May 14th, the Luftwaffe sortied en masse against Sedan, with Ju 87 bombers striking hard on the French positions in the city. The Armée de l’Air was unfortunately powerless to stop this, being occupied in Belgium, as orders dictated that the effort of the Allied air forces should be directed towards Belgium, not France.

In the evening, a report by a French artilleryman was passed on stating that German tanks were at Bulson, to the south. Quickly corrected, this error did sow some confusion amidst the ranks of the 55th Division, who had started packing their bags to get the hell out of Sedan before being encircled, thus leaving the south bank undefended [2].

Therefore, when the German tanks hit, it was against a severely rattled 55th Division, but one that was still entrenched in the city. Quickly, the French artillery in Charleville-Mézieres pounded the attackers in response, inflicting heavy casualties amongst the ranks of the GroBdeutschland regiment, sent in support of the Panzers. This regiment was tasked with clearing out the bunkers of the city, a task that they unfortunately could not be carried out.

The Panzer divisions did not have much luck in their strikes against Donchéry and Wadelincourt, either. With the support of the 71st Infantry and the rolling barrage of artillery, the Panzers were pinned on the northern bank of the Meuse.

It wouldn’t be until the first light of day on the 15th that the Panzers would start establishing bridgeheads, while fighting raged on in the city of Sedan. The 2nd Panzer having started to break through on the left, at Donchéry, and fearing an advance towards Cheveuges, Charles Huntziger, commander of the French forces in the sector, ordered to evacuate the North bank of the Meuse entirely.

All day on the 15th, the RAF and Armée de l’Air flew sorties to try and contain the 2nd Panzer’s breach to the west, and stop the other divisions from establishing bridgeheads. But the Luftwaffe was there to make the Allies pay a steep price for each sortie. In total, more than 30 Allied aircraft were shot down by the Luftwaffe or the anti-air batteries on the ground, likely saving the 2nd Panzer’s bridgehead at Donchéry, and allowing the 10th Panzer to establish its own bridgehead at Wadelincourt.

On the 16th, Huntziger ordered to evacuate Sedan itself, fearing a pincer maneuver of the 10th Panzer that would cut off a third of the 55th Infantry’s troops in the city. By noon, the Nazi flag was flying on the town hall, and the Germans had taken the southern bank.

But the French were not going to let themselves be run over. In fact, the French had brought their own armor, XXI Corps under General Flavigny, to counter it: 300 tanks including more than a hundred B1bis, behemoths of steel which could match anything the Germans had.

Under the blows of the artillery, the Germans had lost more than fifteen hours crossing the Meuse, owing to Colonel Poncelet’s determination in holding the bridges under fire [3]. However, Flavigny waited and waited. Having received reports of Germans crossing the Meuse in force, he wished confirmation before moving his tanks into a potential pocket. By the time he had finally moved forward, the Germans had indeed crossed. Had Flavigny attacked immediately, the Germans would still have been in the process of crossing the Meuse [4].

Luckily for Flavigny, he could still reach Bulson before the Germans, owing to the staunch French defence in the ruins of Sedan. The Germans of the 1st Panzer, confident after crossing the Meuse, immediately ran into Flavigny’s tanks as they rushed from Thelonne to Bulson. With horror, Kirchner, commanding the 1st Panzer, noticed that his PaK 36 anti-tank guns bounced off the armor of the B1bis, which wreaked havoc in the ranks of the Panzer, which only had their speed to counter them.

And that was not counting on the French artillery, which struck the Germans in the woods. In one occasion, the 1st Panzer Regiment was completely wiped out, with just a single tank surviving the encounter [5].

Lacking heavy artillery, the Germans were stuck in the village until May 17th, when the heavy artillery of the GroBdeutschland could finally answer the French one, pushing the French out of Bulson. Though this would also be a blessing for the Germans: the delay had allowed the infantry divisions to catch up, and support the tanks.

On May 18th, the Germans had regained some advantage, while the French were still lacking to reinforce the Sedan bridgehead. As such, Guderian immediately sent his tanks of the 1st and 2nd Panzer forwards, into the undefended French rear and towards the sea, using the infantry to plug the gap. Meanwhile, he kept the 10th Panzer and GroBdeutschland at Sedan to feint an encirclement of the Maginot Line.

It was only on May 19th that the French had managed to amass enough forces to strike at Guderian. That day, the small village of Stonne had become the site of heavy fighting, with the forces of the 10th Panzer receiving a complete thrashing. For two full days, the village of Stonne changed hands no less than seventeen times, with the French B1bis tanks running hogwild.

In a particular instance, the B1bis of future minister Pierre Billotte, ran into the village, destroyed no less than 13 tanks (2 Pz IV, 11 Pz III) and ran back to its lines, having counted 140 hits in its armor, with not a single hit piercing [6].

But the slow speed of the B1bis stopped any attempt at actually exploiting this victory. On May 21st, the Germans of the 10th Panzer, defeated but not broken, managed to reform their line at Chémery and Maisoncelle, stopping the French counter-offensive in its tracks. The timely arrival of the 16th and 24th Infantry Divisions stopped the French attempts at a further counter-attack, which would prove more costly.

However, if Sedan could be considered a victory for the Germans, it came at a cost. The 10th Panzer was knocked out of combat, and it would take a few weeks for it to recover. The GroBdeutschland Regiment had taken horrific casualties, and the 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions had also taken high losses. With more than 10,000 German dead or wounded, the time was now for exploitation. Guderian had gambled a lot on Sedan, he would now have to exploit his costly victory.

On the evening of the 21st, German tanks had reached Hirson and Montcornet. That same day, General Gamelin was removed of his command and replaced by General Weygand.

[1] Yes, Prételat actually did these excercises in OTL and actually told the French high command that the Ardennes were not an obstacle for tanks. Yet another reason why Gamelin deserved much worse than what he got.

[2] In OTL, these positions were deserted and the heavy equipment abandoned.

[3] In OTL, Poncelet had ordered a retreat during the Bulson false alarm. In shame, he shot himself a few days later.

[4] This is OTL. Flavigny actually had a chance to beat back the Germans but, too cautious, did not want to risk his units due to a miscommunication.

[5] Exactly like OTL. The German PanzerDivisions got bled dry at Sedan, too bad it was too late to prevent the breakthrough.

[6] This anecdote is OTL. Stonne was a complete disaster for the Germans.
OTL the Germans reached the Channel on the 19th.
ITTL on the 21st there have "only" reached Montcornet.
Does this delay allow the Allies to pull back from Belgium ?
The GroBdeutschland Regiment had taken horrific casualties, and the 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions had also taken high losses.
Okay, it's time to once again talk about aftermath of German losses. SS guys from this regiment (and later Division) will have problems later. IMHO, ITTL they would have been beaten at Yelnya in 1941.

1st Panzer Division will be less successful in their initial actions during Barbarossa as Army Group North (I don't talk about Battle for Moscow because I think there would be too many butterflies (IMHO, I think Germans won't reach Moscow so close)).

2nd Panzer is more interesting. More losses during the Battle for France means more losses during the Battle for Greece. IOTL, they took so many casualties that they skipped Barbarossa and their first battle at the Eastern Front was in October against the Soviet 316th Division under the command of Ivan Panfilov). This time only author can tell what will happen. IMHO, the Division will skip October and will be able to be used in November or even December.
Chapter 10: From the Dyle to the Schelde (May 1940 part 2 – Low Countries) New
May 21st - June 1st, 1940

With the German thrust from Sedan threatening the Allied rear in Belgium, holding the Dyle line became more of an obstacle than anything else. The Allies needed any extra troops to prevent the Germans from reaching the sea, and they thus had to shorten the front.

Gort, Weygand and Van Overstraeten thus came to one conclusion: in order to free troops to counter the German thrust from the Ardennes, they would have to abandon the Dyle line, so bravely held by the Allied forces, and withdraw to the last Belgian line of defense, along the Schelde. This would have to occur in echelons, of course.

King Leopold was made aware of this plan, but the King was livid. Abandoning Brussels to the enemy? Madness! At this point, why not capitulate entirely? Luckily, the government of Hubert Pierlot, having formed a “National Unity Front” with the Socialists of Paul-Henri Spaak, were absolutely against the capitulation, especially after the Belgian heroics at Liege, Gembloux and Bastogne. And if the King wished to lay down his arms…well, General Denis, Minister of Defence, had considered the option of depriving the King from any constitutional authority…in private, of course.

The Belgian Army would thus retreat from its positions along the Meuse and Dyle towards the west, with a first line of defence on the Dendre River. The BEF and French would then follow in their tracks, abandoning Leuven, then Brussels and Antwerp, to hurry behind the Schelde. French troops committed to the south of the Meuse would have to withdraw towards Valenciennes and Lille.

Not surprised by this withdrawal, the German High Command also knew that many of its front line units were spent, and committing reserves would take time. As such, the Luftwaffe pounded the retreating Allied columns, hoping to disrupt the controlled retreat. These bombings only had partial success, though, as the Allied air forces countered many of these raids, leading to massive air battles.

By May 24th, though, the situation was turning bad to the south. With German troops having penetrated as far as Bapaume, it was obvious that a massive encirclement was looming.

King Leopold panicked, asking his government for a capitulation order to preserve Belgium’s honor. This was considered, but not ratified. On May 25th, the Belgian command was informed of the miracle at Montcornet and the successful French counter-attack, which immediately dispelled any talks about surrender. Spaak and Pierlot reiterated their confidence towards final victory, and King Leopold soon found himself isolated, with very angry French and British officers demanding his retirement from military affairs.

The breakthrough at Montcornet also had consequences for the Belgian Army. This one now had to support French efforts towards Hirson. Van Overstraeten thus committed the VII Corps (8th Infantry and 2nd Chasseurs, reinforced by the 2nd Cavalry) at Mons and Dour in order to secure the French flank. This also meant that the whole Belgian apparatus would have to shift down, with the hole left by the French 1st Army being filled in by both the BEF and Belgian reserves (11th and 16th Infantry).

However, bad communication between the French, Belgians and British during this chaotic time where the Germans were said to be driving towards Abbeville and retreating towards Saint-Quentin all at once, made so that there was a gap in the Allied lines for a good twenty-four hours.

Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft noticed this, and immediately informed Reichenau. This one ordered Hoepner to exploit this gap with the forces he had at hand (IV Corps, 15th and 205th Infanterie, and Kampfgruppe Hoepner). He would also ensure the transfer of the 9th Panzer, freed from the Netherlands, down to Leuven for exploitation of the eventual breakthrough on the Schelde.

At that point, it had become clear to the Germans that a massive encirclement from Picardy was no longer possible, but they could still hope to trap the BEF, Belgian Army and two French armies in a massive pocket by striking towards Bruges.

At dawn on May 23rd, Hoepner sent his troops into the gaping hole between the BEF and Franco-Belgian forces, crossing the Dyle and then the Dendre at Grammont/Geraardsbergen.

The Belgian command immediately panicked. The BEF had started withdrawing but did not anticipate to have to move south, with General Alan Brooke shifting blame to his Belgian counterpart Fernand Verstraeten for not having passed on the information. Verstraeten for his part was too busy trying to shift the 5th and 10th Infantry Divisions southwards, in order to block the German advance. In addition, Van Overstraeten ordered General De Krahe to free the 2nd Infantry Division from its delaying position around Brussels, in order to support the only divisions in the area at that time: the Belgian 10th Infantry and 16th Infantry (the 11th Infantry was tasked with holding Ghent and covering the French 7th Army). Meanwhile, the other Belgian forces were ordered to dig in along the Schelde from Terneuzen to Ghent.

Scattered and with no sense of where the enemy truly was, the three Belgian infantry divisions fought a delaying battle in the Flanders hills. Using these hills now more known for their cycling races than for their observational posts and artillery positions, the Belgians managed to delay Hoepner’s forces in their drive towards Oudenaarde.

At Ronse, Zottegem and Brakel, the Belgian infantry did their best to hold in order for the BEF to come and support them as they rushed from Brussels to Gavere, then Oudenaarde. French forces also scrambled to hold the upper Schelde at Tournai, with the Belgian reserves scrambling to hold Avelgem.

On May 26th, Hoepner’s forces, having had to fight amidst the hedgerows and Flanders hills for two days, finally reached the Schelde line at Oudenaarde. The Germans knew that they had to pierce that line quickly, as aircraft had warned them that forces were converging on the area.

The Luftwaffe had done its best to hamper Allied movements, but it could not do more. Alan Brooke’s 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions would come to plug in the Schelde line within twenty-four hours. Reichenau as such ordered Hoepner to launch a general attack with all the armored force he had left. By now, it had become clear that the Germans could not hope to breach the French lines to the south, and an operational pause would be coming…unless he saved the day.

Reichenau, a fully convinced Nazi, was eager to obtain his Fuhrer’s favors, and rise higher in the German hierarchy. He thus decided to do anything to achieve his goal, including asking the Luftwaffe to flatten Ghent and Lille, if necessary, in order to delay the Franco-British forces from plugging in the gap.

The Luftwaffe, however, could not commit to such an endeavor at the moment, that is, if Reichenau wished to have air support in his attempt at breaking the Schelde line before it could form.

The fighting on May 27th in and around Oudenaarde was thus exceptionally violent. The Belgian forces, solidly covered by their artillery and with anti-tank guns, caused exceptional damage to Hoepner’s panzers. In the afternoon, a company of Matildas from the BEF came to help out the Belgians, who were losing their footing and had already conceded a small bridgehead at Heurne. The timely arrival of the BEF’s machines helped ensure that this bridgehead was contained and pushed back in the evening.

On May 28th, General Von Bock warned Von Rundstedt that his offensive capabilities were dwindling, and that he could not realistically breach the Schelde line if he continued at this pace. Von Bock and Von Rundstedt thus agreed to spare their men and machines, and halted on the new frontline. Hitler validated this order, and immediately ordered to find a way of forcing the line. This one, in Belgium, extended from Antwerp, down the course of the Schelde to Ghent, Oudenaarde, Tournai and the French border. The Dutch remnants and French 7th Army held the line north of Ghent, the Belgian I Corps the line between Ghent and Oudenaarde, the BEF held the line between Oudenaarde and Tournai, while the Belgian II Corps held the line between Tournai and Valenciennes, in France.

In Belgium, disaster had been averted.
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This one, in Belgium, extended from Terneuzen (in the Netherlands), down the course of the Schelde to Ghent, Oudenaarde, Tournai and the French border...
The direct line from Terneuzen to Ghent runs along a canal (yellow). The Schelde estuary runs east to Antwerp, where the Schelde River starts; going upstream the river divides Antwerp, then loops south and west to Ghent (red).
Screenshot 2023-11-23 at 11.28.57 AM.jpg

Presumably the former is the line intended, and the Allies have also given up Antwerp.
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At that time, Antwerp was almost exclusively on the right bank of the Scheldt.

The estuary was between 5 and 10 km wide and the river was several hundred meters wide as far as Dendermonde and then almost a hundred meters as far as Ghent. There were only half a dozen bridges and a large part of its banks were marshy. It was a natural obstacle that was very difficult to cross at the time, and behind it was the French 7th Army, which had considerable motorised means of reaction. At the time, the Ghent Canal was only 68 m wide, with several locks, and it stopped short of the town of Ghent, which would have been on the front line.

The red line was probably a much better defence than the Ghent - Terneuzen Canal.
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At that time, Antwerp was almost exclusively on the right bank of the Scheldt.

The estuary was between 5 and 10 km wide and the river was several hundred meters wide as far as Dendermonde...
Looking at the map from DuckDuckGo, the river is about 200 m wide at Branst...
Schelde at Branst.png

and rather less at Dendermonde.
Schelde at Dendermende.png

...The red line was probably a much better defence than the Ghent - Terneuzen Canal.
But it's over twice as long.
Looking at the map from DuckDuckGo, the river is about 200 m wide at Branst...

and rather less at Dendermonde.
My bad, the Scheldt is 200 m wide up to Saint-Amand, then narowing to 100 m to Ternemonde and 50 m at Ghent.

But it's over twice as long.
Let's say three to four times as long. But we have to consider :
  • There is a strong tidal current running far upstream from Antwerp.
  • The flow of the Scheldt is significant when the tide goes out.
  • The Scheldt estuary is very wide and flanked by dykes that act as glacis for defence.
  • The banks of the Scheldt are muddy.
  • The countryside on either side of the Scheldt is made up of fields criss-crossed by drainage channels or forests, the soil is very muddy and waterlogged, and there are very few villages along the river.

It's 25 km from Terneuzen to the flooded Saeftinghe country, a land of salt marshes several kilometres deep. Then 90 km from the north of Antwerp to Ghent where, at the time, there was only one railway bridge at Tamise, one road bridge at Ternemonde, five road bridges between Ternemonde and Ghent and three road and two railway bridges at Ghent.
Therefore, the area that could really be crossed begins ten kilometres upstream of Ternemonde, i.e. 28 km up to Ghent.

This compares with 35 km from the Terneuzen canal to the Scheldt with a dozen road bridges and four railway bridges, not taking into account the links with the southern bank of the Scheldt at Ghent, no flow at all and a much more solid terrain on both sides of the canal.

See Michelin map of the time :
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Dutch map of the time can be found her:

Caveat: the topographic maps were not frequentlyly updated. I know of bridges across the Waal that were build before WW2, but only appeared on the maps in the 50s.
Belgium playing a major role in halting the Panzers, at least for a while- Cool!
I, as a Russian, is also interested in learning German losses cuz the more German Army bleeds during their conquests, the less successful Barbarossa will be.

So, yeah, looking forward to updates. And I want to know the extent of Hoepner's losses. I've made some searches and found what German units can have troubles (as well as what they did later IOTL)
Chapter 11: Miracle at Montcornet (May 1940 part 2 – France) New
May 21st - June 1st, 1940

The German 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions had managed to break west towards Sedan, causing complete havoc in the French rear. On the 21st, these divisions had reached Montcornet and Hirson, and were clearly driving towards the sea.

In addition, despite the fierce French resistance at Sedan, its Ninth Army, commanded by General Corap, had been beaten at Monthermé and was collapsing, overrun by the Panzers. General Touchon’s Sixth Army had absorbed the shock well enough, but was ill-coordinated.

Panicking, the French high command realized they would need to stop this breakthrough and reorganize their troops along a new defense line. In priority, they would need to redeploy Touchon’s troops and reorganize Corap’s men along the Aisne river, to stop a massive encirclement from happening.

On May 22nd, with the Germans advancing towards Cambrai, the need for a swift counter-offensive, if only to make time, was needed.

As such, Colonel Charles de Gaulle was ordered to take the 4th DCr (Armored Division) and attack at Montcornet, on the supply line of the 1st Panzer Division, and threaten the German rear, forcing them to slow down and allowing the French to redeploy their forces.

Operating from Laon, the 4th DCr launched its assault on May 22nd, as German Panzers were reported in Saint-Quentin. The Germans, behind schedule, had omitted to mine the approaches to the town, allowing De Gaulle’s tanks to approach unmolested.

Despite the destruction of two tanks, the French swift attacks caught the Germans off-guard. The slow B1 bis allowed to reveal the German anti-tank guns, which were then methodically destroyed by the D2s and R35s following behind them [1].

On the evening of the 23rd, De Gaulle’s tanks had managed to clear the 1st Panzer Division from the town with negligible losses, and had managed to establish a bridgehead north of the Serre [2]. With this victory, De Gaulle then calls on his HQ to know what his orders are. Touchon, knowing he is pressed by time, and knowing that Weygand is probably submerged by urgent reports answers “do what you must to prevent breakthrough. Will support any initiative you take. Will send any support you require.”

On the morning of the 24th, De Gaulle decided to gamble. The Germans are now running straight to Bapaume, and he needed to act fast in order for them not to reach Abbeville by June 1st.

After securing the support of two light cavalry divisions, De Gaulle sent his tanks north, towards the back of the German Panzers, straight towards Hirson. This maneuver was clearly designed to make the Germans panic and stop their offensive, or send men to deal with him…but De Gaulle was shocked when all he found were supply columns that he could happily hammer with his guns!

The support of the two cavalry divisions proved invaluable. Only the occasional Luftwaffe raids stopped the French progression short of Plomion.

In the French HQ, the realization finally dawned on them: the German Panzer Divisions had rushed in with no infantry support, and De Gaulle’s miracle offensive could very well save them. With no other choice, Weygand ordered Georges’ First Army, in Belgium, to group any available troops and send them towards Maubeuge, then Fourmies, in order to rush to Hirson and trap the German Panzers rushing through. Flavigny is also ordered to bring any tanks he can spare to Rethel to push from this side. De Gaulle was also given the last French Armored Division, the 2nd DCr, as reinforcements [3].

On May 25th, the French counter-attacked in force. De Gaulle had more trouble, due to the small size of his forces, and the stubborn German resistance, but this was not the case for everyone. Flavigny’s tanks had retaken Rethel after a fierce struggle, and were now pushing towards Signy l’Abbaye, on the rear of the German lines. Similarly, Georges, with the support of the Belgian divisions that had retreated from the Ardennes, sent his infantry from Mons to Maubeuge, threatening Avesnes.

Now, the shoe was on the other foot. The Germans realized that because of Guderian’s gamble, his rear was extremely exposed. Despite being at Bapaume, Guderian realized that he risked to lose four entire Panzer Divisions if he did not rapidly move to counter the French offensive.

Quickly, Erwin Rommel was dispatched to counter what looked like the most important strike: the First Army’s push from the north towards Avesnes.

The 7th Panzer Division thus had to redeploy from the gates of Douai in a hurry. Its leader, Erwin Rommel, who already saw himself reaching Lille and Dunkirk on his own, was now running in the opposite direction, hoping not to be encircled when he got there!

In fact, he would arrive right on time to block the Franco-Belgian push, along with a very angry Hermann Hoth, who arrived in Fourmies on May 26th. After a stormy meeting in the town, where Hoth threatened to have Rommel, court martialled [4], the two generals agreed on the necessity of counter-attacking themselves to buy breathing space for Guderian to retreat himself.

While their attack would be successful, as it stopped the French, things were not going well elsewhere. De Gaulle’s offensive had reignited hope in the French troops, who were now rushing through the Montcornet breach, with the reinforcements of the 2nd DCr in front.

Soon, the Germans had to realize that Hirson was under threat of falling. With a heavy heart, Guderian ordered to retreat and to crush the French counter-attack, abandoning Bapaume to the French First Army. The 8th Panzer Division rushed to Cambrai, then Guise and Marly-Gomont. It was in this town with a forgettable name that the 8th Panzer clashed with the 2nd DCr, which was covering the push to Hirson.

The French inflicted casualties on the German Panzers, but the Luftwaffe had orders to give its maximum effort in order to allow Guderian to break out. Under pressure from the dive bombing, and with no other choice, the 2nd DCr broke, forcing the 4th DCr to disengage just shy of Hirson on May 28th. Guderian’s Panzers had been saved, and the French counter-offensive had stalled.

All that remained now was for the Germans to secure their lines. The French, which had just sallied out with no real logistics, were now under threat of being counter-encircled themselves. Touchon thus ordered the Armored Divisions to withdraw to the Serre: there was no need to risk more than they already had. For them, their mission was accomplished. The Sixth and Tenth French Armies had managed to reform a cohesive line, and the Germans could not hope to break through anymore.

Under fire from the Luftwaffe, but with more aerial support than usual, the French columns slowly retreated back. Most of the B1bis, too heavy, had to be left on the side of the road and sabotaged.

De Gaulle would later have bittersweet memories of the “Miracle of Montcornet”. Certainly, the event allowed him to gain immense standing within the French Army, and would later massively help his cause while forming the Free French Forces, but he also could not help wonder if he could have done more, like taking Hirson, on Rommel and Hoth’s backs. But he would also acknowledge that taking Hirson would also have likely meant that his division would have been at risk of an encirclement by the 8th Panzer which broke through at Marly-Gomont.

For the Allies, there had been panic for a brief moment. The BEF even considered evacuating when the German troops had reached Bapaume, leaving the Schelde and the Belgians to fend for themselves.

Luckily, none of this came to pass. On June 3rd, the Germans halted all offensive operations. The front now extended along the Schelde from the Belgian border to Cambrai, then Gouy and Saint-Quentin, along the Oise to La Fere, along the Serre to Marle, Montcornet, Rozoy and Signy, then Huntziger’s defensive positions at Poix-Terron, Chémery and Mouzon, to the Maginot Line.

The Germans’ gamble had failed by a mere two to three days. Three more days, and Guderian could have been sipping tea in Abbeville. The miracle at Montcornet had saved more than a million men fighting in Belgium, and the victory at Oudenaarde only raised Allied morale. For the Germans however, it was a near disaster. Their breakthrough had failed, and now the Allies were ready for them.

However, the OKH had more than one trick up its sleeve, and this offensive was but a minor setback. What they would need was a rest of a few weeks, and when the Allies expected it the least, they would strike…

[1] More casualties for the 1st Panzer at Sedan means less resistance at Montcornet than OTL.

[2] Weakened German forces and a need for the Luftwaffe to hold the counter-offensive at Sedan means Montcornet is more lightly defended than OTL.

[3] It was destroyed OTL but with a slower German push, it is saved here.

[4] OTL Rommel disobeyed Hoth’s orders to wait before advancing towards Lille. His gambled paid off OTL, but here, with the French on his rear, it bites him in the ass.
Seems like German Panzer Division once again got additional losses. And if I read this correctly then 2nd Panzer Division has all chances to have much more troubles in Greece which will mean arrival in November with increasing odds of the delay till December.
Oh boy I'm curious how Guderian is going to worm his way out of this predicament! The French have done well, but losing their B1s on the withdrawal will sting and seriously impede their capabilities in the future.