This week in the War, 13–19 May 1940: German breakthrough at Sedan

This week in the war, with their invasion of the Low Countries well under way, German forces attacked the town of Sedan in the Ardennes region of France. Responsibility for the attack fell to Panzer Group Kleist (named for its commander, former cavalryman, General Ewald von Kleist).

The idea of attacking with armoured forces through the near impenetrable forests and hills of the Ardennes was the brainchild of Army Group A chief-of-staff Erich von Manstein and Heinz Guderian (who would command Panzer Group Kleist‘s XIX Corps), and had received the blessing of Hitler following von Manstein’s meeting with the Fuehrer at a ‘get-together’ breakfast earlier in the year.

Panzer Group Kleist had 1,000 planes at its disposal and, at 7am on 13 May 1940, they attacked French positions in and around Sedan. By 4.00pm that evening, von Kleist’s panzer divisions were jamming the narrow mountain roads as they crossed from Belgium into France. The Allied air forces were concentrated to the north, where it was assumed that the Germans posed a greater threat, and so missed a golden opportunity to strike.

By 15 May, the French XXI Corps was counter-attacking with tanks, intent on blocking any attempt by the enemy to move south and outflank the Maginot Line, but the attacks were¬†to prove irrelevant. The tanks and motorized infantry of Guderian’s XIX Corps were already speeding westward, heading deeper into the heart of France.

 

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