Volume 3, Chapter 22
Two o’clock on the afternoon of May 25, 1940. 10 Downing Street, London. Residence of the Prime Minister.
“Have you confirmed everything?”
Winston Churchill stood in his office and looked carefully at the photos laid on the table.
“Yes, this is the latest information.” War Secretary, Anthony Eden nodded.
Then General Ismay continued to explain, “This information is very much real. Yesterday afternoon, a reconnaissance aircraft from the Royal Air Force managed to take these pictures. In fact, the night before, the reports from the French intelligence agencies indicate that the German Army has been showing some unusual movements.
In, response, we dispatched several planes to scout the German-occupied zones. The report states that the Panzer divisions have suddenly begun to move to the rear, while some second-line infantry divisions have moved forward to replace them.
The German army near Arras has also stopped their assault. After receiving word from the front, it seems the Germans are shrinking their positions. This may be a sign of them setting up defensive positions. The exception is Calais where Guderian is still continuing his assault. However, on the other fronts, the fighting began to stabilize somewhat. So far, besides some small-scale harassment, the French front is basically calm.”
Churchill frowned, then went back to his desk and sat down. Glancing at the intelligence reports regarding the German Army laid before him.
“We sent a reconnaissance plane this morning also to further scout the area. We found that many of the enemy tanks are stationed in repair or for refueling. After analysis from our intelligence experts, it seems that the German large-scale mobilization was due to the fact that their Panzer forces are in major trouble.” General Ismay stated.
“From the reconnaissance photographs, we can see that the enemy Panzer divisions have dwindled in numbers. This is not necessarily due to combat but lack of fuel. From this photo, we can conclude that this is the case for the 7th, 4th, and 6th Panzer divisions. We came assume this is the case for most of the Panzer divisions on the front.
From yesterday’s reconnaissance reports, the 7th Panzer Division had carried a large number of empty fuel barrels. This can be clearly seen in photos of both the 7th and 4th Panzer Divisions. This makes it even more likely that the Germans have exhausted their fuel. Now the Germans are supplying Guderian with a large amount of resources. However, something of note is that the fuel trucks outnumber the vehicles carrying ammunition. There are some cases of the Luftwaffe delivering Guderian additional supplies.”
“Hmm, it’s a strange situation. Have they really started to fly supplies over?”
Churchill lifted his head and looked at General Ismay.
“Yes, this is the report from the Royal Air Force Radar Station.” Ismay took out a report from his folder and handed it to Churchill. Then he continued.
“During the night, the Fourth Radar Station located at Dover detected a large number of German aircraft heading towards Calais. From the number of aircraft and their size, it seems they are all large transport aircraft. Then the target suddenly disappeared near Calais. It is likely the Germans landed at an occupied French airport. At midnight they suddenly appeared again on the radar and flew back towards Germany. We believe that since the Germans are so desperate to deliver supplies to Guderian, it should indicate that his situation has reached a critical point.”
Churchill pondered for a moment, then he opened the cigar case on the desk. Taking out a cigar from inside, and took a pair of scissors to cut off the end. Lighting the cigar, he leaned back in his chair. As he was smoking, his eyes were concentrated at the map on the wall.
“So, your opinion is that the German logistics has a problem?” Asked Churchill.
“Yes, and probably worse than we think.” Ismay replied. “From yesterday and today’s intelligence reports, it shows that Germany is desperate to deliver fuel to France. Activity on the French railways is 70 percent higher than usual. We think that the German tanks will be forced to stop and solve their logistics issue first.
As I said, there are a lot of German tanks waiting outside the field repair shops. And now it seems that Guderian’s forces are at their end. Since the capture of Calais is strategically important, they have focused all their support to have him keep fighting.
The German Panzer divisions have retreated to the rear of the lines. We’re assuming for transport deeper into occupied territory for further repair. After all, to continue using exhausted fuel and failing tanks is unwise. From our reports, the Arras region contains only a small amount of infantry. Exposing a fifty-kilometer weak spot right in front of us.”
“Is this a trap?” Churchill was still a bit skeptical. “Would the Germans expose such a large weakness?
“It should not be. The German movement was very fast. They’re probably under the assumption that even if we knew, we would not be able to respond in time. Their supply should be sent within the next three days. By that time they could quickly fill that hole and then resume their attack. Moreover, in order to get this information, we also paid a considerable price. The Royal Air Force lost more than fifty reconnaissance aircraft. Over eighty pilots were killed or captured. We’ve lost contact with more than thirty intelligence officers, they should have been caught by the Germans.
“After our first wave of air reconnaissance, the Germans mobilized a large number of fighters to block those areas off. If it were a trap they should not spend so much of their resources to protect their secrets.”
Churchill thought for a moment, nodded, and then he asked Ismay.
“So how do you suggest we proceed?”
“My opinion is that the mobilization of the Germans is our best chance. The most important force that the Germans have is their troublesome tanks. However, now their tanks are lacking in fuel and in a depleted state.
So, for at least three days, their infantry forces will lose tank support. But not only that.” Ismay stood up and walked to the edge of the map. Picking up a pencil he made gestures on the map.
“Because of the withdrawal of the tanks, the enemy has shown a weakness in their encirclement. Just in the area of Arras, they only have one infantry regiment to defend their supply lines. If we can tear a hole in that area, our troubled Expeditionary Force and the French 1st Army will be able to jump out of the encirclement and rendezvous with the French main force in the south. By that time, even if the Germans sent their Panzer divisions, they could not break through the French line of defense on the Somme.
Moreover, we can cut off the logistical supply of Guderian’s Panzer forces. If we were to counter-attack the French coast, we can even surround Germany’s elite Panzer divisions. Then Germany’s combat strength will be greatly weakened and we would likely win this war!”
Ismay grew increasingly excited the more he spoke. Already imagining the scene at the venue of the signing ceremony for Germany’s surrender.
Churchill did not think so, he felt that this opportunity was a little too sudden. Based off the strict attitude of the German Army, they should not commit such a low and fatal mistake.
“Mr. Eden, what is your opinion? I hope this is not another trap of the Germans. It seems unlikely that they would commit such a mistake.”
Eden stroked his chin and said seriously.
“Prime Minister, I don’t think this is a trap. Because I cannot see what the Germans would achieve by luring us with such an intricate act of deception. They have us surrounded, as long as they continue attacking victory is in their grasp. I can’t see any reason to do such a thing.
But now, not only did they stop their attack, they exposed a fatal weakness. If this is a trap, then this is too logical. So, I agree with General Ismay. The German forces probably did encounter some serious trouble. I support the decision to seize this opportunity. This is simply the arrangement of God. I do not think that we’ll have another chance like this in the future.”
His words finally dispelled Churchill’s concerns, his face suddenly relaxing.
“God bless the British! If this is true, then this is really the gift of God. We will use these three days. We will break the German encirclement and save our brave soldiers. We must begin work on a plan now. How should we make better use of this opportunity? Do you have anything planned?”
“There is no detailed plan, only an approximate framework. We still need to communicate with General Weygand about implementing the plan.”
“Of course, immediately send him a telegraph. These circumstances must be explained to him in detail.”
“Yes, I’ll have that done as soon as possible.”
“Immediately summoned the war cabinet! Time is of the essence, we only have… two and a half days. This plan must be drawn up today and sent to General Gort as quickly as possible.”
“Sir, General Gort’s troops are retreating to the coast. Only a small number of them are holding the rear defensive positions.”
“What are they going to do waiting on the coast? Oh, yes that was my order. Look, I’m so delighted I’ve forgotten haha. Send General Gort a telegram ordering for his troops to stop the retreat and to return to their original positions.”
“Yes, Prime Minister, I’ll have it arranged immediately. “What do we do about the Navy’s Operation Dynamo? The preparations are still ongoing, Admiral Ramsay has been constantly taking over the civilian ships.” Anthony Eden asked.
“If we use that plan, we can bring back a number of soldiers.” Eden continued, “We could probably withdraw fifty or sixty thousand. Perhaps less considering that the Germans would not let us cross the strait so easily.”
Churchill thought for a moment, then pressed the cigar in the ashtray.
“Then have Admiral Ramsay suspend his preparations. No… Tell him that the Operation has been discarded. Fifty to sixty thousand is not nearly enough soldiers for this war. At least now we have a better chance.”