Sacrifice at Calais – Sidebar: July ’98 World War II Feature

8/19/1998 • World War II

The 10th Panzer’s Blitz Across France

Prior to Operation Barbarossa, Major General Ferdinand Schaal had already proved that his 10th Panzer Division was a fast moving, hard hitting weapon. During the invasion of France, the 10th served as part of the southern thrust under the XIX Corps, which was led by one of Germany’s mot audacious commanders, Lieutenant General Heinz Guderian.

When the code word “Danzig” reached Schaal on the morning of May 10, 1940, the division exploded forward, advancing 45 miles on the first day. The 10th was the first division to encounter the enemy and quickly routed the 2nd French Cavalry. As the division advanced, its greatest problem proved to be not the enemy to its front but the congested roads to its rear, which hampered efforts to resupply the rapidly advancing tanks. The problem with resupply became so acute that Guderian was forced to declare a general halt to return marching discipline to the ranks.

The next day the 10th Panzer got bogged down in a large forest, falling behind the other panzer divisions until it broke through into open country. By May 12, Schaal’s 10th Panzer had reached the Meuse River near Sedan, France. The division deployed around the town and prepared to cross the river, ignoring the French artillery that harassed its flanks.

Crossing the Meuse on the 13th did not go as planned. First, the Luftwaffe did not hit many of the French positions on the opposite bank, and second, the French artillery had zeroed in on the open terrain all along the river. The 10th Panzer?s first attempt to cross the river failed under the withering French artillery fire. Schaal refused air support during this assault, having lost confidence in the Luftwaffe’s ability to destroy the French defenses. Late that day, a single German rifle company managed to established a small bridgehead, but it was nightfall before bridges were laid and tanks could cross the river. The 10th Panzer’s infantry made the initial advances until forced to wait for the tanks. When the tanks finally arrived, they broke through the last French defenses and began the race to the English Channel.

During the 10th’s advance, Guderian visited the division twice. On the first visit, he found Schaal close to the front, where one of his colonels was directing a reconnaissance battalion in an attack on French defenses. Guderian later commented, “The steady way the division moved forward under the command of its officers was an impressive sight.” The second time Guderian visited the 10th’s headquarters, he was briefed by Schaal’s staff, because Schaal was forward with his troops.

With virtually no resistance to slow its advance, the 10th raced across France and then turned north, arriving at the coastal town of Calais on May 24. Guderian again visited Schaal and offered to have the Luftwaffe strike the town. Schaal refused, not wanting to pull his men back and not believing that the Luftwaffe could fulfill the job. The 10th Panzer took Calais two days later, capturing 20,000 prisoners.

Farther east, however, Guderian’s entire corps was halted outside of Dunkirk on May 24 because Hitler ordered the town left to the Luftwaffe. Troops advancing on Dunkirk pulled back, and the Luftwaffe attacked, allowing two-thirds of the British army to escape and fight another day.

Despite his frustration at Dunkirk, Guderian, in an address to the XIX Corps, praised his panzer divisions for advancing more than 400 miles in 17 days, reaching the English Channel without faltering and carrying out every order with devotion. Guderian concluded his address rather ominously, proclaiming, “Now we shall arm ourselves for new deeds.”[ TOP ] [ Cover ]