1. Fun Fact Friday! (#9)
The Phoney War!
‘Phoney War’ is the name given to the period of time in World War Two from September 1939 to April 1940 when, after the blitzkrieg attack on Poland in September 1939, seemingly nothing happened. Many in Great Britain expected a major calamity – but the title ‘Phoney War’ summarises what happened in Western Europe – near enough nothing.
The term 'Phoney War' was first used, allegedly, by an American senator called Borah when he said, "There is something phoney about this war." Winston Churchill referred to the same period as the ‘Twilight War’ while the Germans referred to it as ‘Sitzkrieg’ – 'sitting war'.
The Phoney War refers to what happened in Western Europe between September 1939 and the spring of 1940. To assume that nothing was going on in Europe would be wrong as Poland was in the process of being occupied with all that brought for the Polish people. However, in Western Europe very little of military importance did take place. In fact, so little occurred that many of the children who had been evacuated at the start of the war, had returned to their families. To many, war had been declared by Neville Chamberlain, but nothing was actually happening.
While most of the German army was engaged in Poland, a much smaller German force manned the Siegfried Line, their fortified defensive line along the French border. At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, British and French troops stood facing them, but there were only some local, minor skirmishes, while in the air there were occasional dogfights between fighter planes. The Royal Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, while western Europe was under a period of uneasy calm for seven months.
Meanwhile, the opposing nations clashed in the Norwegian Campaign. In their hurry to re-arm, Britain and France had both begun buying large amounts of weapons from manufacturers in the US at the outbreak of hostilities, thereby supplementing their own production. The non-belligerent US contributed to the Western Allies by discounted sales, and later, the lend-lease of military equipment and supplies.
Despite the relative calm on land, on the high seas the war was very real. Within a few hours of the declaration of war, the British liner SS Athenia was torpedoed off the Hebrides with the loss of 112 lives in what was to be the beginning of the long running Battle of the Atlantic. On 4 September, the Allies announced a blockade of Germany to prevent her importing food and raw materials to sustain her war effort, the Germans immediately declared a counter-blockade.
The Nazi jackboot was to march into Denmark and Norway during April 1940. Both of these countries were neutral at the time. Hitler overran Norway purely for strategic purposes. Iron ore from Sweden was supplied to Germany via the Norwegian Port of Narvik, and Hitler want to ensure that the supplies arrived without interference. As a secondary benefit, the capture of the Norwegian ports allowed the German navy to utilise them for future military operations. Denmark had the misfortune of being in the path of Germany's attack on Norway. By late June 1940 the whole Continental coastline opposite Britain, from Biarritz to the Artic Circle was under Nazi control.
On 10 May 1940, eight months after Britain and France had declared war on Germany, German troops marched into Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, marking the end of the Phoney War.
France! The French felt pretty secure because of the Maginot Line and because they considered the Ardennes (located in Belgium) to be impassable due to the forests and hills.
Were they right? NO!!!
German forces rolled across the border and through the Ardennes Forest. As a result of this manoeuvre the Germans avoided the Maginot Line and managed to outflank it. Within two days the Germans had broken through the French lines and were making their way towards the coast.
On 17 June 1940, the French government had announced its intention of seeking an end to the fighting. In a symbolic act of revenge Hitler made the French government sign the surrender in the same railway carriage that was used to sign the German surrender of World War I.
Germany now controlled most of Europe, WWII had begun.