In the interim, France remained committed to the strategy of passive defense it had adopted from the war's outset. The French army had completed its mobilization along the German frontier while Hitler's forces seized Poland. Although France had an overwhelming advantage in numbers and equipment, French army commander General Maurice Gamelin failed to seize the opportunity and invade Germany in strength from the west. On 30 September, Gamelin ordered an end to the small foray he had authorized into the Rhineland and a withdrawal to the French frontier. The French also manned the Maginot Line and settled into garrison duty by 4 October.
Belgium and the Netherlands maintained their neutrality, and the British—who were slow to commit resources to France and to understand the gravity of the situation—believed the economic pressure of the Royal Navy's blockade could force a negotiated settlement. As a result, an illusion of peace called the Sitzkrieg (stationary war)—an ironic reference to the German blitzkrieg (lightning war) campaign in Poland—settled over the opposing forces. It was also known as the Phony War or dr™le de guerre and the Bore War. Both sides were reluctant to unleash premature air action that might bring about the bombing of cities, and the British limited their early bombing activity largely to dropping of leaflets (critics called it the "Confetti War").
Civilian trains continued to run along tracks between the German and French lines. Children and soldiers alike played in the open fields separating the combatants. The surreal atmosphere at the front began to take a toll on the morale of the French army, as defeatism and apathy spread through the French government.
Meanwhile, preparations for further hostilities continued. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) gradually grew in strength along the Belgian border, but the Allies failed to take advantage of lessons learned in Poland regarding the use of tanks in divisions. The army largely ignored Colonel Charles de Gaulle's pleas to reform French armor doctrine to reflect Germany's successful demonstration of blitzkrieg warfare in Poland.
As the bitterly cold winter of 1940 gave way to spring, illusions regarding the war continued. Even an American intelligence assessment, correctly noting that Germany would complete its buildup along the French border in May 1940, concluded that no attack would follow. The Norway Campaign of April 1940 did little to weaken that common perception, which lingered in many minds until 10 May, when the Germans launched their invasion of France and the Low Countries.
Jeffery A. Charlston
Benoist-Méchin, Jacques. Sixty Days That Shook the West: The Fall of France 1940. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1963.; Shirer, William L. The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.