BEF in France Prepares to Fight Huns

British Expeditionary Force sent to France beginning of World War Two

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 3) Men of the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers disembarking at Cherbourg from the steamer ‘Royal Sovereign’, 16 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205204991

Comments Charles McCain:  similar to to the BEF in World War One, the British Army sent to France was poorly equipped for modern warfare. Many reserve units of the Territorials were untrained. The Army had spent little time in combined arms training. It had the makings of a disaster and it was.

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 576) Matilda Mk I tanks of 4th Royal Tank Regiment being transported by train from Cherbourg to Amiens, 28 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205033

Comments Charles McCain: built by Vickers Armstrong and armed only with a machine gun, these tanks were designed only to support infantry and could hardly go head to head with an a tank as we think of them. Poorly designed, underpowered, lightly armoured, this was not a tank you wanted to be in. With a gasoline powered engine they easily “brewed up” when hit.

The driver of a Matilda I of 4th Royal Tank Regiment in France during the winter of 1939–40. This shows the cramped driver’s compartment and how the hatch obstructs the gun turret. Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 165) Crews of 13/18th Royal Hussars work on their Mk VI light tanks in a farmyard near Arras, October 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205007
THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 152) Men of 1st Border Regiment man a Bren gun set up in the back of a 15cwt truck at Orchies, 13 October 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205004

 

Morris-Commercial 15cwt truck on a railway flat car at Arras, 3 January 1940 .  when evacuated from Dunkirk British forced to leave thousands of trucks

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939 (O 129) A motorcycle despatch rider delivers a message to the signals office of 1st Border Regiment at Orchies, 13 October 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205002

When the British transported the British Expeditionary Force to France they also transported a massive number of vehicles of every sort from tanks to staff cars to trucks to Bren carriers to motorcycles. The official history states that more than 60,000 vehicles were destroyed in combat or left behind on the beaches. The Germans were especially keen on the Bedford trucks.

*BEF vehicle losses in France 1940 from History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series, The War in France and Flanders 1939-1940.

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 617) A Morris CS9 armoured car of ‘C’ Squadron, 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’ Own) receives attention parked in a farmyard at Villiers St Simon, 29 September 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205037

 

Troops of the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment, 2nd Division, checking the papers of civilians at Becun on the Franco-Belgian border, 10 October 1939. Imperial War Museum.  

Unfortunately, many Belgians were of German ancestry or allegiance. As they went back and forth across the border of Belgium and France they kept a keen watch on the various activities of the British and French armies. Once back home, they blabbed everything to the Germans.

During the retreat of the British Army to Dunkirk, the King of Belgium decided to surrender, which opened a gap in the lines forming the corridor British troops were using to retreat. He didn’t give the British a lot of notice. They felt a great bitterness toward the Belgians.

The late Lord Carrington, who served in the Guards Armoured Brigade in World War Two, said in his memoirs that as they went through Belgium in 1944 it was obvious “the Belgians had eaten their way through World War Two.”

THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE 1939-40 (O 2288) The Grenadier Guards building breastworks on flooded ground at Hem, December 1939. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205065

Perhaps not the best use of the most elite regiment in the British Army. Typically this work was done pioneer battalions or Royal Engineers.

 

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/