Phoney War

Phoney War
The Phoney War
Date 3 September 193910 May 1940
Location Maginot Line, Siegfried Line
Result Battle of France
 United Kingdom

The Phoney War was a phase early in World War II – in the months following Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany (shortly after the German invasion of Poland) in September 1939 and preceding the Battle of France in May 1940 – that was marked by a lack of major military operations by the Western Allies against the German Reich. War was declared by each side, but no Western power had committed to launching a significant land offensive, notwithstanding the terms of the Anglo-Polish military alliance and the Franco-Polish military alliance, which obliged the United Kingdom and France to assist Poland.

Contemporaneously, the period had also been referred to as the Twilight War (by Winston Churchill), der Sitzkrieg[1] ("the sitting war": a play on Blitzkrieg), the Bore War (a play on the Boer War), dziwna wojna ("strange war"), and drôle de guerre ("strange/funny war").

The term "Phoney War" was possibly coined by U.S. Senator William Borah who stated, in September 1939: "There is something phoney about this war."[2]



People of Warsaw under British Embassy in Warsaw with banner "Long live England!" just after British declaration of state of war with Nazi Germany

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. The Royal Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, while western Europe was in a strange 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 U.S. at the outbreak of hostilities, supplementing their own productions. The non-belligerent U.S. contributed to the Western Allies by discounted sales, and, later, lend-lease of military equipment and supplies.

Despite the relative calm on land, on the high seas the war was very real indeed. 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, and the Germans immediately declared a counter-blockade.

At the Nuremberg Trials, Alfred Jodl said that "if we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions."[3]

Saar offensive

The Saar Offensive was a French attack into the Saarland defended by the German 1st Army in the early stages of World War II. The purpose of the attack was to assist Poland, which was then under attack. However, the assault was stopped after a few miles and the French forces withdrew.

According to the Franco-Polish military convention, the French Army was to start preparations for the major offensive three days after mobilization started. The French forces were to effectively gain control over the area between the French border and the German lines and were to probe the German defenses. On the 15th day of the mobilization (that is on 16 September), the French Army was to start a full-scale assault on Germany. The preemptive mobilization was started in France on 26 August, and on 1 September full mobilization was declared.

A French offensive in the Rhine river valley area (Saar Offensive) started on 7 September, four days after France declared war on Germany. Since the Wehrmacht was occupied in the attack on Poland, the French soldiers enjoyed a decisive numerical advantage along their border with Germany. However, the French were not able to take any action to assist the Poles. Eleven French divisions advanced along a 32 km (20 mi) line near Saarbrücken against weak German opposition. The attack did not result in the diversion of any German troops. The all-out assault was to have been carried out by roughly 40 divisions, including one armored division, three mechanized divisions, 78 artillery regiments and 40 tank battalions. The French Army had advanced to a depth of 8 km (5.0 mi) and captured about 20 villages evacuated by the German army, without any resistance. However, the half-hearted offensive was halted after France seized the Warndt Forest, 3 sq mi (7.8 km2) of heavily-mined German territory.

On 12 September, the Anglo French Supreme War Council gathered for the first time at Abbeville in France. It was decided that all offensive actions were to be halted immediately as the French opted to fight a defense war, forcing the Germans to come to them. By then, the French divisions had advanced approximately 8 km (5.0 mi) into Germany on a 24 km (15 mi)-long strip of the frontier in the Saarland area. Maurice Gamelin ordered his troops to stop no closer than 1 km (0.62 mi) from the German positions along the Siegfried Line. Poland was not notified of this decision. Instead, Gamelin informed Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły that 1/2 of his divisions were in contact with the enemy, and that French advances had forced the Wehrmacht to withdraw at least six divisions from Poland. The following day, the commander of the French Military Mission to Poland General Louis Faury informed the Polish Chief of Staff—General Wacław Stachiewicz—that the major offensive on the western front planned for 17-20 September had to be postponed. At the same time, French divisions were ordered to retreat to their barracks along the Maginot Line. The Phoney War had begun.

Winter War

A notable event during the Phoney War was the Winter War, which started with the Soviet Union′s assault on Finland on 30 November 1939. Public opinion, particularly in France and Britain, found it easy to side with democratic Finland, and demanded from their governments effective action in support of "the brave Finns" against their comparatively larger aggressor, the Soviet Union, particularly since the Finns' defence seemed so much more successful than that of the Poles during the September Campaign. Hitler noticed this, and concluded that an 'Aryan' race was capable of fighting a 'Slavic' race. As a consequence of its attack, the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations, and a proposed Franco-British expedition to northern Scandinavia was much debated. British forces that began to be assembled to send to Finland's aid were not dispatched before the Winter War ended, and were sent to Norway′s aid in the Norwegian campaign, instead. On 20 March, after the Winter War had ended, Édouard Daladier resigned as Prime Minister in France, due (in part) to his failure to aid Finland's defence.

German invasion of Denmark and Norway

The open discussions on an Allied expedition to northern Scandinavia, also without consent of the neutral Scandinavian countries, and the Altmark Incident on 16 February, alarmed the Kriegsmarine and Germany by threatening iron ore supplies and gave strong arguments for a German securing of the Norwegian coast. Codenamed Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway commenced on 9 April. From 14 April, Allied troops were landed in Norway, but by the end of April the southern parts of Norway were in German hands. The fighting continued in Northern Norway until the Allies evacuated in early June in response to the German invasion of France and the Norwegian forces in mainland Norway laid down their arms at midnight on 9 June.

Change of British government

British Ministry of Home Security poster of a type that was common during the Phoney War.

The debacle of the Allied campaign in Norway, which actually was an offspring of the never-realised plans to aid Finland, forced a famous debate in the House of Commons during which the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was under constant attack. A nominal vote of confidence in his government was won by 281 to 200, but many of Chamberlain′s supporters had voted against him while others had abstained. Chamberlain found it impossible to continue to lead a National Government or to form a government of national unity (in Britain often called a "coalition government", to distinguish it from Chamberlain's existing national government) around himself. On 10 May Chamberlain resigned the premiership whilst retaining the leadership of the Conservative Party. The King—George VI—appointed Winston Churchill—who had been a consistent opponent of Chamberlain′s policy of appeasement—as his successor, and Churchill formed a new coalition government that included members of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party as well as several ministers from a non-political background.

End of the Phoney War

Most other major actions during the Phoney War were at sea, including the Second Battle of the Atlantic fought throughout the Phoney War. Other notable events among these were the following:

The warring air forces also showed some activity during this period, running reconnaissance flights and several minor bombing raids. The Royal Air Force also conducted a large number of combined reconnaissance and propaganda leaflet flights over Germany. These leaflet flights were jokingly termed "Pamphlet raids" or "Confetti War" in the British press.

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.

See also

Notes and References

  1. ^ ::The Phoney War::
  2. ^ Defiant Peace Bid Hurled By Hitler, The Pittsburgh Press, September 19, 1939 [1]
  3. ^ IMT Vol XV p.350
  4. ^ The Spitfire, an operational history - 2. Into action
  5. ^ Junkers Ju88 4D+EK

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • phoney war — UK US noun [countable] [singular phoney war plural phoney wars] a period of time during which people or governments are officially at war, but are not in fact fighting Thesaurus: general words relating to international relations …   Useful english dictionary

  • phoney war — n [singular] a period during which a state of war officially exists but there is no actual fighting …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • phoney war — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms phoney war : singular phoney war plural phoney wars a period of time during which people or governments are officially at war, but are not in fact fighting …   English dictionary

  • phoney war — also phony war N SING A phoney war is when two opposing groups are openly hostile towards each other or are in competition with each other, as if they were at war, but there is no real fighting. [BRIT] There is a chance that the phoney war of the …   English dictionary

  • phoney war — ➡ phony war * * * …   Universalium

  • Phoney War — noun During World War Two, the period of limited military activity from the outbreak of hostilities until the fall of France …   Wiktionary

  • phoney war — noun (singular) a period during which a state of war officially exists but there is no actual fighting …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • phoney — an informal word meaning ‘sham, fake’ (adjective and noun), is of uncertain origin and not traced in print before 1900. Its currency was greatly boosted by the use of the term phoney war to refer to the relative inaction in the early months of… …   Modern English usage

  • war — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ long, short ▪ impending, ongoing ▪ bloody ▪ all out, full scale, total …   Collocations dictionary

  • phoney — adj. Phoney/phony is used with these nouns: ↑document, ↑war …   Collocations dictionary

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