This review has been submitted to Strategy and Tactics magazine.
Title: Dunkirk: German Operations in France 1940
Author: Hans-Adolf Jacobsen
Publisher: Casemate Publishers
The Battle for and evacuation at Dunkirk may be very accurately viewed as a tactical victory for the Germans and a strategic victory for the British. The former were able to utterly defeat their adversary on the battlefield while the latter were able to save their army (minus equipment) to fight another day. This book, one of the “Die Whermacht in Kampf” series, examines the conduct of the battle and the reasons why the German failed to close the noose around the British army before it was able to escape. While the vast majority of the book is focussed upon the German’s efforts and actions, there is enough given over to the British and French to provide context. It is important to note that this series was undertaken originally in the 1950’s by German senior commanders and academics; and while they still did not have access to all of the primary source documentation (some was still in the hands of the Allies) relating to the event, they did take full advantage of the senior level participants and the primary source material that they did have. These studies are, in effect, a post mortem lessons learned about how the Germans executed their operations from both a command as well as a tactics perspective.
Approximately two thirds of the book is given over to the execution of the operations leading up to the end of Fall Gelb (Plan Yellow – the initial invasion of France and the Low Countries; and the commencement of Fall Rot (Plan Red – the invasion of the main body of France). While this is interesting, it is not overly unique and has been presented in many other works on Dunkirk. What is the gem of this book is the analysis of the German senior command decisions that facilitated the British evacuations. Many modern works point to Hitlers Halt Order of 22 May which enabled the Allies to establish a defensive perimeter around Dunkirk. While it is true that the order was given, it was, in fact, von Rundstedt (Commander of Army Group A) who gave the order to halt and the author clarifies how and why this came about. Additionally, and more interestingly, Jacobsen makes the argument, drawing upon primary sources, that there was in fact, three main issues at play: 1. the failure of a unified command structure for the Dunkirk Operation resulting in a failure to develop and execute a plan to destroy the Dunkirk bridgehead, 2. An assumption by the senior command in Berlin that Fall Gelb was, for all intents, finished (prior to destroying the Allied armies)and, as a result, attention was turned towards Fall Rot and units were withdrawn from Dunkirk that may have made an operational difference; and, 3. A failure of appreciation amongst the most senior of German commanders regarding the capability and role of the ‘fast units’ involved in the Dunkirk operation.
This book is an excellent study in some of the less appreciated elements of German operations around Dunkirk. The maps provided are somewhat difficult to follow but nevertheless provide a visual appreciation of the battlespace. It is acknowledged by the authors that they do not have access to the breadth of primary source material that they would like but, even with this being the case, this work is well worth a read.