Sunday, January 28, 2024

Explaining Gamelin's Defeat at the Battle of France

General Maurice Gamelin’s hubris and self-delusion certainly played a role in France's defeat, but were those the only reasons for that defeat?

The willful ignorance of the geography and history surrounding the Ardennes Forest wasn’t limited to just a few military leaders but seemed to be widespread throughout the top levels of the French military. How did this institutional rot become so widespread? Here are two theories that may explain this:

  1. The “blinded by science” theory: the French saw Germany’s use of blitzkrieg in the invasion of Poland in 1939, and they failed to grasp the significance of it. This is akin to when one chess player doesn’t understand his opponent’s strategy mid-game. The world was seeing a revolution in heavy mechanized warfare, and the French didn’t understand the scope of its applicability.
  2. The “historical materialism theory”: during the interwar years, France was a hotbed of Marxist-influenced thought, and Marxists are extremely comfortable with revising history to fit their narrative. The result is that history becomes detached from reality and is instead grounded in wishful thinking and the eternal Year Zero. This may be why Gamelin discounted the results of the 1939 summer exercises – the historical materialist would say that what happened last year has no bearing on the present beyond the repositioning of economic classes, followed by even more word salad.

Both theories may be grasping at straws, and it would be very difficult to either prove or disprove them. A little scrap of information supporting the second theory comes from Pétain, who attributed the French defeat to “the work of 30 years of Marxism,” (Langer, 2013) but this can be his attempt to shift the blame. Another quote of his (Giannelia, 1941) is that “France will become again what she should never have ceased to be, an essentially agricultural nation. Like the giant of mythology, she will recover all her strength by contact with the soil,” thoughts that would be echoed by Pol Pot 30 years later.


Giannelia, P. (1941). “France returns to the soil”. Land and Freedom. Retrieved 28 Jan 2024 from

Langer, H. J. (2013). World War II: An encyclopedia of quotations. Greenwood Publishing Group.

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