Phoney war. General de Gaulle recalls: When, in September 1939, the French government followed the British cabinet's example and consented to join in the conflict already begun in Poland, I had not the least doubt that it did so with the illusion that, in spite of the state of war, we would not fight all-out. It was therefore without astonishment that, as commander of the tanks of the V Army, in Alsace, I saw our mobilized forces settle down into stagnation, while Poland was struck down in two weeks by the Panzer divisions and the air squadrons." French soldiers in the silence of bunkers of the Maginot Line were playing cards and reading newspapers. [Gaulle Ch. de (1998).]



So, in autumn 1939 Adolf Hitler started the war. But the war broke out mostly because the fear of war was stronger than the will to defend the peace. Nowadays we know what was the end: the culprits of countless crimes ended up either in underground bunkers taking rat poison or behind some filling-stations hung by legs. Others were brought to an international trial, where they had to answer for their doings. Not all of them though. The world has never seen a sign of repentance from those numerous statesmen, diplomats, militarymen and politicians, very often the noblest representatives of their nations, who have contributed, with their cowardice, stupidity, prejudice and short-sightedness to the outbreak of the greatest conflict ever. Let us imagine, who might stand before a hypothetical trial of human consciousness:

Thomas Woodrow Wilson - the 28th president of the United States and creator of the League of Nations. He designated this organization to guard the peace but did not arm it even with a broomstick. Helpless League put the nations to sleep, disarmed defenders of peace, and armed militarists.

David Lloyd George - the British prime minister and a priest of false god: balance of power. In 1919 he made victorious England to protect conquered Germany at the expense of France and East European countries.

Political circles of the United States, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland - in 1924-1930 they agreed to grant Germany twelve and half billion gold dollars in credits. With this money Germany was able to organize military production.

Financial circles of wealthy nations - after they had granted credits and after the Great Depression of 1929-1933, they had retired in to the shells of internal affairs and prayed for salvation to another false god: economic automatism.

Theoreticians of economic liberalism - their ostrich policy led to the economic crisis, then blocked reforms, and contributed to economic, social and political successes of totalitarian régimes.

Aristide Briand, Austin Chamberlain, Gustav Stresemann and Vittorio Scialoja - creators of Locarno pact. The pact had limited security guarantees only to the Germany's western frontiers, whereas in the east Germany was thus solemnly invited to carry out aggression to the east. And at that price the peace in the west was purchased. This is the problem of the Locarno pacts, and its effect could certainly be seen in 1938 and 1939. [Beck J. (1957).]

French and British diplomacy - paralysed by the fear of war, deprived of ability to predict consequences of their own policy, from Locarno to declaration of Germany's supplementary armaments (11 December 1932) to the Four Powers Pact they were doing everything to direct German expansionism eastward.

Pacifists of all sorts - who demanded liquidation of fire brigades when arsonists had already prepared their hideous crimes.

French and British politicians of "appeasement" - their naïve belief in possibility to appease aggressors and coward policy of capitulation let the totalitarian regimes prepare and execute their plans unmolested.

Anthony Eden and Pierre-Étienne Flandin - foreign ministers of Great Britain and France during the Rhineland crisis. In the critical situation they had no guts to summon a manful decision and opened to the weak aggressor the way to further conquests.

Józef Beck, Edvard Beneš and Nicolae Titulescu - politicians responsible for the foreign policy of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. They failed to draw conclusions from the danger menacing their countries and to create a common front to defend them.

Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier - authors of Munich capitulation. They could build a dam to the barbarism falling upon Europe; instead they caused an avalanche of errors, which dragged it into the abyss of catastrophe.

After the war the legend has been spreading that the West was not prepared to it. The truth is contrary - it was Germany that was the most unprepared for war. As Hitler started the war he instilled horror into his generals and admirals. The German military machine worked perfectly but the full readiness was not planned until later.

Of course neither Great Britain nor France had spent on armaments as huge sums from state budgets as Germany had, but Germany had been virtually disarmed for many years. Whereas the West had always had a large land army (France) and navy (Great Britain). The Royal Navy was actually smaller than during the First World War but the Kriegsmarine in 1939 was not a match at all to the Hochseeflotte in 1914. Air forces were more or less in balance. West's defencelessness is a myth invented and eagerly spread by the culprits themselves.

During the Polish campaign France had overwhelming superiority in troops over German units left in the west. The German Luftwaffe had engaged in Poland 2,600 aircraft out of 3,600. The Allies possessed altogether 2,200 combat planes ready for action. They could reach virtually any target in Germany. The Royal Navy could literally sweep the Kriegsmarine away from the ocean surface. And German U-boats, cut out of their bases in the North Sea, would not be able to operate in high seas longer than few weeks. Ordinary hunger would force them one after another to capitulation.

But in 1939 the French Supreme Command did not know at all why the war was declared. It could see no strategic goals. All the French generals assumed was that in some undefined future the Germans would bump their heads against the Maginot Line. Still worse, the political leadership also had no particular plans. After the fall of Warsaw General Maurice Gamelin decided, that further French demonstrations at the scale of one German county were pointless and on 30 September he ordered his troops to retreat. They came back to their formidable fortifications without a single shot. Only tiny outposts were left on the German frontier. And what then? Nobody knew it in the French command. Only the Germans did know.

On 6 October Hitler gave a grand speech, in which he had openly stated, that it was worthless to cross axes in the West over conquered Poland. For Poland, he said, was a Versailles Treaty's mistake. He also mentioned a return of former German colonies, but promised not to take them by force. For short he was waving an olive branch and playing a role of a peacemaker, who would save the world at the price of Poland. The speech was favourably received by numerous capitulationists. Some of them were as influential as Duke of Windsor, ex-king of England Edward VIII, who in 1936 was made to abdicate officially because of his romance with an American divorcee Bessie Wallis Simpson, and less officially for his pro-German sympathies. People like him believed that one could make a deal with Hitler. They did not know that right at that moment the German leader, intoxicated by the lightning victory in Poland, demanded from his generals a strike against France by 12 November.

Hitler's speech was supported by a "counter-offensive" launched on 16 October. Tiny forces of a German battalion drove French outposts away from German territories and dug in. They pretended that they had not interest in French lands. Meanwhile in the whole Reich lasted hectic works to repair and strengthen the war machine deranged in the Polish campaign. The war in Poland had brought the first practical experience in employment of rapid armoured and motorized units. Their penetrating power proved stunning. It surprised not only the Poles but the Germans themselves as well. That is why they reorganized their four light divisions into armoured ones and increased the number of mechanized divisions. Moreover they were feverishly forming 40 new infantry divisions - the result of general conscription. They had perfectly exploited the time they were given.

The lightning war had also brought another experience: relatively fewer casualties. In 1916 German and French armies clinched in the battle of Verdun lost a million of soldiers. The Polish campaign, which engaged well greater forces and resources, did not leave time for long, methodical mutual slaughter. The Germans lost about 50,000 men; Polish losses are estimated for 300,000. On the other hand armoured units were losing their equipment very quickly, especially in case of stout defence. The 4th Armoured Division lost 80% of its tanks, other units also suffered heavy losses. Together with vehicles were missing their crews. These very losses in tanks and crews did not let the Germans to turn immediately against France. German generals had finally managed to persuade it to Hitler, and the worsening weather supported their cause. And that is why they did not celebrate the New Year 1940 in Paris.

Meanwhile, confident in their final victory, they were plundering occupied lands. Pomerania, Posnania, Silesia, Lodz, Plock, Suwalki and some western counties of Cracow and Kielce provinces were incorporated to the Reich and the Poles were expelled without the right to take their possessions. In the rest of Polish territories hitlerites created so-called General Government (Generalgouvernement - GG) with the capital in Cracow. Its governor was appointed Hans Frank, hitherto Reich's minister of justice. He regarded GG as a Reich's food storage and provider of cheap labour. The Poles were promptly deprived of any human rights like health care, education, theatres, books, press, even radio. Gestapo and SS instantly went on them. Round-ups and mass executions became common. Particularly savage repressions aimed Polish intelligency - this social class was sentenced to extermination. On 6 November professors of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Universities in GG were closed.

Universities were also closed in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Prague students' protests on 28 October were brutally suppressed; 1,200 students were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Jews from Protectorate and so-called Slovak State were herded into ghettos; the biggest of them was organized in Theresienstadt (Teresin).

The same time all was quiet in the Western Front. It was not until 10 October that Daladier rejected Hitler's "peace" offer. Chamberlain did the same two days later. But some influential persons continued to seek a way to conclude peace with Hitler. Nobody knows the name of the first Polish soldier to fall in the Second World War. This cannot be established in case of full-scale hostilities to break out at once on the front stretched over 2,000km. From the other hand the name of the first fallen British soldier is known very well. It was Corporal Thomas E. Priday from the Royal Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment. He was killed during a patrol in northern France on 9 December 1939, exactly on the hundredth day of the war.

On 30 November 1939 on the Soviet-Finnish frontier broke out fights, which eventually resulted in a local winter war. This conflict in the north-eastern outskirts of Europe attracted however more attention in the West, than the war just declared on Germany. It strengthened those, who lobbied for war with the USSR rather than Germany. At the same time the front on the Franco-German border remained completely idle. The French themselves had called this period drôle de guerre - phoney war. The Germans had invented even more sarcastic term: Sitzkrieg, sitting war.

In these circumstances the Polish Prime Minister in exile, and since 7 November also the Supreme Commander, General Władysław Sikorski, hardly could promote Polish cause before the Allies. Chamberlain simply ignored him even in cases as obvious as Polish territorial demands in East Prussia. Daladier despised him, others did not care. Poland was not included into the Allied Supreme War Council. Common declaration of three prime ministers, the British, the French and the Polish, denouncing German war conduct had been delayed several months. As to the analysis of the Polish campaign, thoroughly worked out by Sikorski's staff, the French militarymen had simply ridiculed it. They deemed it useless for France having so mighty forces and protected by the line of legendary fortifications. Only a certain Colonel Charles de Gaulle wrote in his memorandum to the French supreme political and military leaders:

Any defender who limited himself to static resistance by old-fashioned elements would be doomed to disaster. To smash mechanical force only mechanical force carries certain effectiveness. A massive counter-attack of air and ground squadrons (...) that is the indispensable resort of modern defence. (...)

In the present conflict, as in those that preceded it, to be inert is to be beaten. (...)

The motor gives modern means of destruction such power, speed and range that the present conflict will sooner or later be marked by developments (...) far exceeding those of the most devastating events of the past. (...)

The war that has begun may well be the most widespread, the most complex and the most violent of all those that have devastated the world. The political, economic, social and moral crisis from which it arose has such a depth and is so ubiquitous that it must necessarily end in complete upheaval of the condition of nations and the structure of states. Now the obscure harmony of things provides this revolution with a military instrument - the army of machines - that is in exact proportion to its colossal dimensions. It is high time for France to draw the necessary conclusions from this fact. [Gaulle Ch. de (1998).]

France did not draw conclusions. In April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. But in the Western Front nothing betokened the pending storm.