Battle of Abbeville
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The Battle of Abbeville took place from the 28 May to 4 June 1940 near Abbeville. While the Dunkirk evacuation was under way, General Maxime Weygand attempted to take advantage of the immobilisation of German forces to cut an escape route through and rescue the trapped Allied forces of the Dunkirk pocket.
The Allied attack, carried out by the French 2e Division cuirassée (2e DCr) and 4e Division cuirassée (4e DCr), and the British 1st Armoured Division, constituted the largest attack sustained by German forces until the Battle of Kursk. It comprised 500 tanks and 4 Infantry divisions.
In spite of Allied success which effectively shattered German defences on the ground, the battle was ultimately a failure due to the general breakdown of the French and British armies.
The repeated frontal attacks of Mont Caubter by Colonel De Gaulle have been later criticised by Henri de Wailly as reminiscent of the attitude of French knights at the Battle of Crécy. Nevertheless, De Gaulle was promoted to acting brigade general on 24 May, with effect on 1 June, and was Mentioned in Despatches: "On 7 May 1940, having just been formed, the 4e DCr, under orders of Colonel De Gaulle, was thrown into battle. Isolated from any fighting unit North of Aisne river during action at Montcornet, Crécy-en-Serre and in Laon mountains, gained initiative on the enemy. A few days later, through a series of spiritful attacks, stopped the enemy arriving from Abbeville (...) the 4e DCr has gained recognition from the Fatherland."
Before the battle
After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B had invaded the Netherlands and advanced westward. In response, the Supreme Allied Commander—French General Maurice Gamelin—initiated "Plan D" and invaded Belgium to engage the Germans in the Netherlands. The plan relied heavily on the Maginot Line fortifications along the German-French border, but the Germans had already crossed through most of Holland before the French forces arrived. Thus, Gamelin committed the forces under his command, three mechanised armies, the French First and Seventh and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to the River Dyle. On 14 May, German Army Group A burst through the Ardennes and advanced rapidly to the west toward Sedan, then turned northward to the English Channel, in what Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein called the "Sickle Cut" (known as "Plan Yellow" or the Manstein Plan), effectively flanking the Allied forces.
In the afternoon of 18 May the Grand Quartier Général NE ordered the 6th and 7th Armies as well as de Gaulle's 4e Division cuirassée to organise in-depth defence of the Crozat Canal line and the Somme, between Ham and Amiens. The Seventh Army was specifically ordered to keep its forces ready for a counter attack at the left flank of the attacking German forces. Meanwhile forces withdrawing from Belgium were to organise a defence of the line further west, around Abbeville and all the way to the English Channel. In the following days, until 4 June 1940, the SNCF railways moved 32 infantry divisions to the area along Aisne and Somme, despite German air superiority and constant aerial bombardment of railway lines and junctions.
As the German armoured divisions drove to the sea well in advance of German infantry, the entire area between Somme and Scarpe was practically devoid of any German forces except for some panzer divisions, well-armed, but with their flanks exposed and unsupported by artillery or infantry. The situation seemed perfect for a counter-attack, but after the string of defeats of mid-May, indecision set in among the French command. Only minor half-hearted counterattacks were conducted across the Somme between Amiens and Péronne. By 22 May the opportunity was lost as a motorised infantry corps arrived to the scene and relieved the tanks of the 10th Panzer Division along the river. French probing of the German lines in this sector was stopped the following day.
- (English) Guy Chapman (28 September 2011). Why France Collapsed. London: A & C Black. p. 415. ISBN 978-1-4482-0469-4.
- (English) John MacDonald (1986). Great Battles of World War II. Toronto, Canada: Strathearn Books Limited. ISBN 0-86288-116-1.