Defeat of Poland
The Poles were defeated swiftly by the German Blitzkrieg (lightning war), which they were ill-equipped to deal with. It consisted of rapid thrusts by motorized divisions and tanks (Panzers) supported by air power. The Luftwaffe (the German air force) put the Polish railway system out of action and destroyed the Polish air force. Polish resistance was heroic but hopeless. They had no motorized divisions and they tried to stop advancing German tanks by massed cavalry charges. Britain and France did little to help their ally directly because French mobilization procedure was slow and out-of-date, and it was diffi¬ cult to transport sufficient troops to Poland to be effective.
The ‘phoney war’
Very little happened in the west for the next five months. In the east the Russians took over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and invaded Finland (November 1939), forcing her to hand over frontier territories which would enable the Russians to defend themselves better against any attack from the west. Meanwhile the French and Germans manned their respective defences-the Maginot and Siegfried Lines.
Hitler seems to have hoped that the pause would weaken the resolve of Britain and France and encourage them to negotiate peace. This lack of action pleased Hitler’s generals, who were not convinced that the German army was strong enough to attack in the west. It was the American press which described this period as the ‘phoney war’.
Denmark and Norway invaded
April 1940 Hitler’s troops occupied Denmark and landed at the main Norwegian ports in April 1940, rudely shattering the apparent calm of the ‘phoney war’. Control of Norway was impor¬ tant for the Germans because Narvik was the main outlet for Swedish iron-ore, which was vital for the German armaments industry. The British were interfering with this trade by laying mines in Norwegian coastal waters, and the Germans were afraid that they might try to take over some of Norway’s ports, which they were in fact planning to do. Admiral Raeder, the German navy chief, realized that the fjords would be excellent naval bases from which to attack Britain’s transatlantic supply lines.
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